When he asked, he got answers. The defining elements of Nickelodeon’s wildly popular “Blue’s Clues” were the expectant pauses of host Steve Burns, stretches of still screen and silent air when he offered a striped-shirt Mona Lisa smile after posing a question to his audience. As he waited patiently, a flurry of activity would erupt in living rooms the world over as his young viewers triumphantly reported that they’d found it – Blue’s clue was in the left corner! On the table! The answer was always within arm’s reach.
And then it wasn’t – for Burns, anyway. After five years of gamboling with singing eating utensils and entrancing children in 60 countries, he walked away from the show in 2001 (or “went to college,” in the show’s typical educational prodding to its devotees). Released from the technicolor pup’s leash, he disappeared into the real-world playground – and surfaced years later with an admirable, sweeping rock album.
Songs for Dustmites is a space-case of an indie album. Softly orchestrated with ambrosial strings and techy effects, it kicks up the dust that settled after Yoshimi battled the pink robots – and not coincidentally, as the Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd and Michael Ivins played a part in the album’s creation (with production and bass, respectively). The mostly mid-tempo, progressive tracks saunter along with folk and americana leanings, often turning to single piano and guitar lines before transitioning entirely to vocal emphasis. The resulting sound is an intimate, if sometimes melodically fragmented, pattern that binds the entire album together well and pulls attentive ears towards Burns’s arresting, gently serrated croon.
Always the costar, Burns’s strong presence cedes to his pacific self-doubt. The roaring opening track, “Mighty Little Man,” (ram, asx) sounds less an acceptance of the juicebox icon’s slight stature than a conscious, not-quite-smiling nod to his internal shortcomings. “What I Do On Saturday,” (ram, asx) possibly the catchiest track and also the best example of the singer’s distinctive warble, repeats resolutely and nonchalantly, “I’m just a boring example of everybody else.” The other songs follow a similar self-deprecating bent, though they snap back upright before the moaning reaches crescendo, and flow fluidly with nary a glaring weak spot.
Songs for Dustmites is a solid soundtrack for the grown-up that isn’t done growing. It inspires a sort of maternal pride in the knowledge that Burns, after years of waiting for answers, found his own musical talent to fill the silence. God knows he looked around enough.