The Blue Stones’ Hidden Gems is full of gems… but they aren’t really hidden

The Blue Stones are a duo who first came onto my radar less than a year after the initial release of their full-length debut Black Holes, but never quite captured my full attention. No, it wasn’t until I heard rumblings of Paul Meany taking on production for the Windsor-based blues rockers that my intrigue was wholly piqued. After all, the musician and producer best known under the MUTEMATH moniker had already helped twenty one pilots create some of their strongest work with 2018’s Trench, so of course he was capable of doing it again for the Ontario natives. Their first collaboration, the album’s second track, “Shakin’ Off The Rust,” was unleashed in October of 2019, and ever since then the pairing has proven to be a formidable combo.

Much like Trench before it, Hidden Gems has Meany’s sonic fingerprints all over it, so much so in fact that certain moments could potentially even be mistaken for outtakes from discarded MUTEMATH sessions, like on “One By One” or album highlight “L.A. Afterlife.” These two tracks in particular bear a striking resemblance to their now-disbanded counterpart, but all throughout the record there is this familiarity sure to be welcomed by MM fans. Don’t mistake familiarity for warmth, however. The bulk of the LP is this relentless rock and roll, best characterized as ice cold rather than “warm and fuzzy.”

From the opening stomp of the gospel-tinged leadoff cut “Lights On,” all the way through the lengthy western-esque closer “Oceans,” the album epitomizes the term “driving.” Every track boasts this sense of steadily moving forward, both on the upbeat rockers and the more subdued cuts alike. Thundering riffs are constant through much of Hidden Gems, especially at its most intense points, with tight, emphatic drum grooves riding in the pocket, such as on the quintessential cut “Grim” and on the softer yet still-unrelenting 1-2 punch of “One By One” and “Careless.” Even when the intensity is nowhere to be found (see penultimate “Make This Easy”), the duo still finds a way to keep things moving.

For a group only comprised of two members, the sophomore studio effort from The Blue Stones is both miraculously full in sound and vastly diverse in style. While some of this can certainly be attributed to Meany’s stellar production work, I would be remiss if I discounted the sheer talent and chemistry between vocalist / guitarist Tarek Jafar and drummer Justin Tessier. Both partnerships make for a fine pairing, one that makes up for the nearly year and a half we waited. Indeed, Hidden Gems is rock and roll at both its finest and its freshest, even with literally half of the album already out in the wild leading up to last week’s release.

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