Tulsa band finds artistic direction through catchy songs on Marble Games
It’s exciting when a band’s sound comes together, and that’s what happens on the Marble Games EP by Tulsa indie band The Blue Hues. Caleb Daniels and Wyatt Hargrove first met at Tulsa University, where they were the only two male vocalist students in their cohort. Daniels was intrigued by Hargrove’s songwriting, and the two agreed to try working on a project together.
If Plastic Jazz, the band’s 2019 debut album, was a good snapshot of where they were when they started the project, then the Marble Games EP is a great indication of how much they’ve grown. Where Plastic Jazz felt experimental and introductory, Marble Games feels purposeful and intentional with a distinctly pop aesthetic of simpler forms, saturated synthesizers, tight beats, and catchy vocal hooks and harmonies.
The EP is comprised of four songs that were previously released as singles in 2021 and 2022. In early 2020, the EP was a project idea that Hargrove pushed because he had new songs. It was “Persona”, the first song on the EP, that inspired the entire brand of Marble Games. Hargrove identified it early on as the sound he wanted for the EP project. Once the direction was established, he set out to write “fun and catchy songs” that were enjoyable to write. Daniels explained that Marble Games was meant to be “pop music we could all enjoy.”
By summer of 2020, the project had become a 10-song album, and by fall, Hargrove and Daniels had settled on trimming it back down to an EP. That was also around the time The Blue Hues had its first live performance, adding Ryan Ganaban (drums/tenor vocals/songwriting), Celyn Grigson (keys), and Jacob Gates (trombone/bass vocals) to the band.
The first three songs on the EP, “Persona”, “Made to Feel”, and “Monday Morning Clothes”, were all worked on first as live songs with the full band. Daniels noted, “It was the live energy of those songs that came into the recordings. That was the main difference in Plastic Jazz and Marble Games.”
Another notable difference is the upgrade from the basement recording to Lightspeed 10 Studios for the recording and production of Marble Games. Although the band looks back fondly on the basement recordings, if The Blue Hues endeavored to achieve a tighter pop sound, going to a studio was the right move.
For the most part, the lyrics of Marble Games tend to stay in the obscure, moody headspace of the band’s indie roots. There are themes of existence, self-doubt, and love. The first song, “Persona”, seems to be the lyrical exception.
The trippy fever dream verses in “Persona” might not connect with everyone, but even if Caleb had read from a takeout menu, the song would still hook listeners with its catchy melodic lines. Pop songwriters sometimes forget the simple and effective power of a “la la la” or “do do do” over a memorable chorus, but Hargrove understood the assignment on “Persona”.
The Blue Hues have big, bold fun on the song that Daniels refers to at live shows as “Baby Shark for Adults,” and he delivers triumphant “do do dos” that might leave listeners with an earworm for days. “Persona” has an energetic tempo that’s hard to resist, making it a solid choice to start the EP.
Three out of the four songs on Marble Games begin with synthesizer intros, but “Made to Feel” stands out as the most sonically lush song with an intro that swims in synth and a midpoint that develops fun and funky bass, guitar, and cowbell. Daniels’ vocals feel appropriately large and anthemic from the start.
“Made to Feel” features an affecting lyrical refrain, “Just because I exist, shouldn’t mean I’m on my own.” When asked about the meaning behind the lyric, Hargrove said, “It’s essentially the thesis of the song, solipsism, and the idea that you are the only thing that exists and that nothing around you has any bearing on things.” Daniels added, “Musically, there is a big crescendo happening, and it felt like the line to cry out.”
The third song, “Monday Morning Clothes”, was a song that Hargrove wrote in his basement around the beginning of the pandemic. The song is anchored by a simple chord progression and bassline. Every part is on synthesizers except Caleb’s voice and a kit, which is a nice analog contrast. This is the first song on the EP that allows the band’s backing harmonies to shine.
The song is up for interpretation, one of which might be about putting on a Monday morning costume to do the things one has to do to get by. Hargrove explained his take: “It’s about routine, falling into the same kind of pattern, never revising, never looking at if things are going the way they are supposed to.”
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Hargrove said it spilled out and ended up being a very wordy song. The lyrics are worth a deeper review to find gems like “I’m happy with these sleeves around me / ignore desperate pleas and pipe dreams,” ringing out in Daniels’ sweet falsetto.
The final song, “Stars (To My Sarah)”, is noticeably the only song on the EP that doesn’t start with that infectious synthesizer. Instead, listeners get a simple and swingy slow-dance shuffle . This song also highlights the band’s killer harmonies better than any other selection. Big, swelling harmonies are a perfect stylistic choice in a song that has a doo-wop feel.
Daniels said, “When it comes to harmony, the two biggest influences between the two of us are Queen, for me–and that’s what I thought of when I wrote those harmonies–and for Wyatt, it’s the Beach Boys, and that came more into play in ‘Monday Morning Clothes’.”
In essence, “Stars (To My Sarah)” is a love song, but the form also serves as a musical metaphor for the ride of love. The song starts in a rooted, minimalist feeling, feet planted firmly on the ground. It builds to a climactic synth solo, like a blastoff thrust. The final section leaves the listener weightless and floating in space as it leaves the earth’s atmosphere, and it’s a sweet nod to the heady feeling of loving someone with all of one’s heart.
The Blue Hues found a sweet spot of blending vintage concepts with modern pop on Marble Games. It’s an enjoyable listen that beckons repeat plays. The band plans to promote the EP with local performances around Tulsa and OKC, so keep them on your radar in 2022 for what is sure to be a fun and energetic show.
The Blue Hues plays Tulsa bar venue The Colony tomorrow night with The Bake Sale. Admission is $10, and more info can be found at the official Facebook event page.
Jamie C. Clark
After spending the first two decades of her adult life in academia and the corporate world, Jamie turned her creative drive toward her passion for music. She left the nine-to-five grind in 2019 to pursue music recording and freelance writing.