Though Blue Heron makes Nick Levine’s full-length debut as Jodi, you’re likely already familiar with their sounds. Levine has been a longtime contributor to Pinegrove. Their pedal steel playing helped to define that group as more than just an emo band. On Blue Heron, Levine shows uncanny similarities to their former group, begging the question of how much Pinegrove influenced them or how substantial their contributions were to that band.
While appreciating Pinegrove’s music serves as an easy litmus test here, Jodi is a distinct project and steps out of that shadow, to a degree. “Power” opens the album with tenuous slowcore that bears little resemblance to Levine’s past work. Those two hallmarks can set the expectations for Blue Heron: lurching, slow-paced alt-country with a tendency toward both whispery vocals and Pinegrove-esque melodies.
Lead single “Go Slowly” exemplifies this mix. A folksy bit of bedroom pop that balances Levine’s most prominent influences and makes use of their delectable pedal steel playing. Levine’s instrumentation peppers much of the album’s highlights. A guitar pattern picked with a triplet feel on “Hawks” creates a shimmery swirl. Pedal steel soars in and out of a fuzzy crescendo on “Buddy.” “River Rocks” lets Levine showcase their abilities in a rewarding instrumental that lets go of some of the religious restraint elsewhere on Blue Heron.
Levine calls the style “queer country,” but bedroom country might be more accurate. Jodi treads the territory of gentle bedroom poppers like Frankie Cosmos, Florist, and Lomelda. And, like Lomelda often has, Levine worked with Tommy Read at his Lazybones Studios, helping to explain some of the sonic similarities. Like many bedroom pop acts, Jodi favors dry and simple drumming, gentle guitar strums, and murmured vocals—sparsity prevails.
Though not totally obvious from the get go, the similarity to Pinegrove, especially the band’s earlier material, becomes overwhelming and eerie as Blue Heron proceeds. Of course, this is not Pinegrove, and Jodi never attempts a rousing number or much of anything that might justify a sing-along moment, much less shout-along. But softer tracks from that group—think “Aphasia” or “Waveform”—can be easily traced to the slow wind-up and drawling vocals of Blue Heron tracks like “Slug Night” or “Water.” “Get Back” relies on a verse pulse, tempo slowdown, and descending chorus chords that could all be textbook Pinegrove.
Though difficult to escape the presence of Pinegrove on these songs, Blue Heron still provides a separate collection of music. Perhaps think of it as a side project recontextualizing the characteristics of that first group. Levine’s pedal steel playing does set them apart from bedroom pop contemporaries. The production, while strikingly familiar to Lomelda’s Hannah, is impressive as well. But, more than anything, on Blue Heron Jodi sounds like an echo of Levine’s previous work.