Album Review: Blackbird Blackbird – Tangerine Sky

San Francisco’s Mikey Maramag has a gift for painting landscapes. As Blackbird Blackbird, Maramag has made our heads spin with dense texturing and ear-worm hooks that take you far away to a place untainted by the imperfections of daily life. Always alternating between driving pop accessibility and ambient impressionism, Blackbird Blackbird follows in a proud line of artists like M83 and Washed Out, without repeating or deliberating any work we’ve seen done by these or others in the past. This week, we get a fresh batch of tunes in Tangerine Sky, easily Mikey’s most ambitious and impactful work yet. Armed with a barrage of electronic instruments and infinite piles of swirling guitar, Tangerine Sky will be soundtracking 2014’s summer nights with beauty, complexity, and wonder.

Blackbird Blackbird has done a great job over the last fews years of growing with the amorphous evolution of the electronic scene. 2010’s Summer Heart balanced synth-pop and chill wave with comparative ease, while 2012’s excellent Boracay Planet EP blended ambient house with an 80s overtone that captivated your heart within minutes. Singles like the epic “It’s a War” and chameleon gem “All” proved that Maramag’s mixture of dance music, ambient noise, and guitar licks was a truly unique experience. But this year, Mikey really pulls out all the stops with Tangerine Sky. This record compiles all the shades he’s shown off thus far for maximum impact and eclectic continuity. As a guitarist, singer, and producer, Tangerine Sky shows off Blackbird Blackbird in fully-deserved form.

Maramag takes the Boracay Planet sound and perfects it on the first four tracks of Tangerine Sky. The psychedelic title track opens the record up with melancholy yet driving vibes. Then, the double header of “Love Unlimited” and “Feel It In My Bones” reel you in hook, line, and sinker. Both of these are prime for radio play and summer playlists all around. While Boracay often tended towards texture and atmosphere above exposé, “Love Unlimited” shows off Maramag’s guitar chops and weightless vocals front and center – it’s refreshing to hear him up so close and personal. Similar things happen on the dreamscape wonder of “Feel It In My Bones”, whose 7th chords and exploding snares could carry you a million miles away. Finally, wrapping up the first chapter of the record is “Darlin Dear”, an 80s throwback stick of dynamite whose beauty is only really overtaken by its warm nostalgia.

After putting the final coat of gloss on the Boracay, Blackbird Blackbird continues the proud tradition of progressing with the times and building on what has already been built. “There Is Nowhere” is a hazy, half tempo R&B gem, full of trippy fills and all topped with a flat-out gorgeous falsetto. This track stands completely on its own on this record, and it is a surprising and very welcome highlight. After mixing things up a bit, “Treehouse” starts out at the same half-tempo but moves into full ambient house to blend with the excellent “Summer’s Almost Over”. The latter is a colorful and captivating dance track, more colorful forest than dark, sweaty club. But the dance energy works perfectly into “Polaris”, the album’s most bass-heavy effort, and a psychedelic dub landscape that continues to make Blackbird Blackbird impossible to pin down.

The album leaves room for two more singles, “Rare Candy” and the fantastic “Grow Old With Me (Don’t Let Go)”. Though Tangerine Sky shows off a dozen different sides of Mikey Maramag, and an infinite horizon of potential directions to go next, songs like “Grow Old With Me” remind us how fantastic Maramag has already gotten at creating a longing in your soul for something far away. Blackbird Blackbird is a fantastic ambient dance statement for a variety of reasons, but most of all, it’s for the tracks like this one, where Mikey and his guitars make you cry staring at the sunset with a constant four to the floor beat giving a pulse to your broken heart. A well-rounded effort that deserves a dozen listens over, Tangerine Sky goes to show that Blackbird Blackbird is only getting started, and the sky’s the limit for Mikey Maramag.

Tangerine Sky is out this week on Om Records! Grab the CD and digital at the Blackbird Blackbird Bandcamp page, or grab the album with a bonus track at iTunes. Listen to more tracks from the record at the Soundcloud page or on Spotify (with yet another exclusive bonus track). Mikey will be playing a string of headlining shows in support of the new record starting next week. No Seattle dates are posted at this time, but check back to his Facebook for updates in the coming weeks.

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