It's been six years since Columbia's Dear Blanca released a full-length album. The band has pushed through some personnel changes and dropped a couple EPs since, but anyone who was a fan of Dear Blanca's 2014 album Pobrecito will immediately hear the band's signature sound firmly in place on Perched, their new 10-track album.
Singer and guitarist Dylan Dickerson's wounded, sweet-and-sour wail is still present and accounted for, and the band's unpredictable, stop-start rhythms still go down unexpected paths. The tightly wound riffs and roaring guitars still bolster melodic choruses on songs like "It Had To Be" and "Armchair," and Dickerson's trembling vulnerability shines on the shimmering acoustic ballad "Out To Pasture."
Perched sounds like it could've been released right after Pobrecito, though the band has certainly advanced their style, sounding tighter and bigger than before. But the album doesn't sound labored over at all, and that's probably because it's largely made up of first takes, even if it was recorded in fits and starts over the last five years at Rialto Row in Charleston.
"We really only spent a total of four or five days in the studio making the record," Dickerson said, "but it was broken up over periods of time. The record was made in three or four song chunks from different sessions."
So why the six-year gap? Well, for one thing, the band had to adjust to a new lineup and write the songs — they only had two completed when they began recording.
When keyboardist Andrei Mihailovic left the band, Dickerson, bassist Cam Powell and drummer Marc Coty were left as a trio with some shows booked and a more skeletal sound. So they brought in Alex McCollum (who's also in the Columbia band Stagbriar with Powell) to fill in the gaps with a second guitar.
"That was kind of a shift of gears," Dickerson said, "Then we started working with Alex, so we were workshopping with him and teaching him the back catalog. Once we did that we were able to lean in to finishing the record with Alex being part of the writing."
Even when McCollum became involved as a songwriter and they started moving forward, Dickerson said the band took their time to hash out new material, cutting weaker songs along the way.
"We were finding the time to finish writing the record and figure out what the band was," he said. "I think that's part of why it took us so long to write the batch of songs ... We already knew what we wanted the record to be sonically, so rather than us slapping together 10 random song ideas, we had a pretty clear vision for the record."
The band's shifting, unpredictable song structures also allowed them more room to experiment on Perched, and they took advantage of it with the acoustic ballad "Out To Pasture," and the elegant closer "Visitation."
"I think that we definitely try to not be formulaic," Dickerson said. "I think we're always trying to scratch a new musical itch. It's always really exciting for us when something sounds like something we haven't done before in one way or another. We can really try things out without worrying, 'Is this going to sound like us?' Because it's always going to sound like Dear Blanca. It's not a conscious effort to be wild cards in terms of form and structure, but the idea is to have some sort of change of pace musically, that makes the dynamic feel completely different."
The album may be out July 31, but Dear Blanca still has an uncertain path in front of them. Coty left the band after Perched was finished, and they also have to figure out how to promote a new release with little or no live shows on the horizon. Much like with the songs on Perched, though, Dickerson and company have plenty of ideas.
"We're going to do a few out-of-the-box COVID-era projects," he said. "Alex and I have toyed with the idea of some sort of a more-produced livestream that we can edit and post and make to look really sharp."
"I'm up to the challenge of finding a way to be a band in 2020."