"Goodbye Juliet" isn't just the first of four singles that This Blue Heaven is releasing over the next couple of months; it is the first piece in a puzzle the indie-pop band devised in the three years since releasing "Spinning and Shining."
And after speaking with keyboard player Aaron Rosenthal and singer/lyricist MacKenzie Outlund, this puzzle is even bigger than we first imagined.
"Goodbye Juliet," available starting July 9 via This Blue Heaven's Bandcamp page, is the first of four tunes comprising an E.P. whose full title is " still the tulips wave goodbye Juliet into the hurricane." And in total there will be four E.P.s, each with four songs, each song title fitting together into a cohesive line, each line a piece of a short narrative once all assembled.
"It has been fun for me, shameless word-nerd that I am, to play with the lyrics and song titles in ways that relate and bind the songs together," Outlund says via email.
The 16-song cycle relays the tale of a journey, but Outlund says that the particulars worked themselves out in the creative process rather than arriving as a fleshed-out idea.
"The most crucial thing doesn't seem to be writing lyrics or music first, but finding a way to connect with that mysterious creative source, which I think of as 'the blue,'" she says, noting how on "Goodbye Juliet" she matched poetic lyrics that originally came to her while walking across the Mass Ave. bridge with a chorus and melody line cooked up by guitarist Stu Dietz.
The completed puzzle will also contain more than lyrical links, as musical motifs spill from one song to the next.
The new song is also This Blue Heaven's overt pivot from upbeat indie pop to epic pop, where songs have a darker tone and there's a bit more complexity in the delivery.
Underscoring that point, This Blue Heaven brought in the Borromeo String Quartet, an ensemble-in-residence at the New England Conservatory, to play on the four-song suite "Goodbye Juliet" is part of. "On "Goodbye Juliet," you hear the quartet's work subtly woven into the fabric of the song, lifting Outlund's vocals as the song soars toward a finale.
Borromeo Quartet's viola player Mai Motobuchi and Rosenthal are married, and this is the first time the two have recorded together.
"They are like family. It was so difficult to get them on this record because they are so busy, but it was like a dream come true," says Rosenthal, who is a composer by training and finally brought that experience into his rock work. "They were such a good fit because the quartet is always exploring and trying new creative outlets."
Borromeo Quartet's presence also helped This Blue Heaven shift away from the "toe-tapping" earlier songs.
"We created an identity that we're not leaving behind, but evolving from," he says. "We kept a lot of the style and added to it. It's all still pretty melodic, and you can tap your toe to most of it."
This Blue Heaven celebrates the release of "Goodbye Juliet" Saturday, July 13, at Brighton Music Hall, 158 Brighton Ave., Allston. The Motion Sick (which includes This Blue Heaven drummer Travis Richter) is reuniting that night for its first show in three years. Parks, Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library, and Wash Pool are also playing (basically bands the Motion Sick seeded with members).
This may be the first time I've seen such a thought-out concept released in such small bits. But the cinematic sweep of "Goodbye Juliet" is certainly an intriguing start to the process.
"In this day and age, nobody is buying records," Rosenthal says. "With this puzzle idea, I hope people can appreciate one piece at a time."
The author is solely responsible for the content.