Blondes Blondes(RVNG Intl.) Buy it from Insound
They say that flattery will get you everywhere, so before we start I'd just like to say: Congratulations! The fact that you're here reading this review of a (relatively) obscure electronic album on a (sadly) not exactly massive music website suggests that you're an informed consumer and really know your stuff.
However, odds are as an informed consumer that there are people you know - maybe friends, probably family - whose musical preferences drive you slightly mad. Not necessarily what they listen to, but rather how they listen to it; most likely, they're still using the earphones that came with their iPods despite your repeated protestations.
But help is at hand in the arrival of the self-titled debut by Brooklyn-based Blondes as rarely has an album benefitted quite so much from an upgrade in audio equipment. Listen to it through something bog-standard like in-built computer speakers and it seems like an hour of very pleasant, dreamy, retro synth-wash, but when run through a half-decent pair of earphones (and we're not talking serious audiophile kit here - mine only cost around £30) it's astounding. The sheer amount of detail, all fascinating and absorbing in its own right and perfectly pitched and placed, that reveals itself is rather like going from black and white to technicolour and the difference will be more than enough to convince anyone of the importance of a decent technical set-up. For example, closer inspection of opener Lover unveils echoing, rhythmic chanting (sampled from a work by minimalist composer, multidisciplinary artist and off-beat vocalist Meredith Monk) that unsettlingly, but wonderfully, buries itself right in the subconscious and icy synth stabs that are effective enough to send a shiver down the spine, and its every beat comes across like a sucker-punch right in the gut. Truthfully the album never gets quite that exciting again, but, oh my, how exciting it is while it lasts.
If I were to start going on about how Blondes provides a perfect example of the transformative power of pure sound, you'd (rightly) put me down as a bit of a knob, but unfortunately that's all I've got, especially considering just how unappealing the alternative terms that have been thrown around in relation to the album are; the favoured one being Hipster House, presumably because what the duo are up to ostensibly sounds a bit like House music, but is slightly useless if you approach it as such (any attempt to dance to this record will most likely result in a slightly lopsided, somnambulant shuffle). Besides, the only real House number is the appropriately titled Pleasure, and even that doesn't allow itself to stay quite so straightforward for long, introducing at its midpoint an effect that sounds like a tape reversing over and over, and beautifully so - it's almost enough to get lost in for hours in itself. Otherwise, the duo are very much following in the steps of acts like Fuck Buttons in repurposing 90s dance music into something dreamier, or to extend things a little further, slotting themselves in nicely alongside Animal Collective's hypnagogic pop (now there's a term that's spectacularly ugly, but sadly also too accurate to eschew).
Unfortunately for this review, the music itself doesn't really offer me anything particularly deep to talk about; the titles might come in pairs, suggesting a sense of duality and mirror imaging - Lover/Hater, Business/Pleasure, Wine/Water and Gold/Amber (and also highlighting that three quarters of the album has already been released on 12") - but the tracks themselves don't really seem to support such analysis, instead it's all about the feeling, which is unfailingly euphoric no matter what the song's called. And I can't even prove my muso credentials by comparing them to an even more obscure artist that even you might not have heard of (although to be honest that's probably unlikely as there's a good chance that you know more about this stuff than I do) as slap-bang in the middle of the album's press release is the claim that their main influence is composer and inspirational Kosmiche figure Manuel Göttsching and, yes, their album does sound very much like his work, just spruced up and expanded to reflect and take advantage of the ongoing march of technical progress. Instead all I have is waffling on about Blondes' musical highlights, both massive and minuscule - such as the constantly bubbling-under electro of Gold, the clattering drums of Hater, the industrial-sized panpipes of Wine, and, conversely, Amber's sparseness, which sees out the album with just a distant bassline like the sound of a heartbeat, almost as if it's a retreat to the womb. Considering just how gorgeously detailed their work is from top to bottom, it's a bit difficult to believe their label's claim that it's mostly improvised.
Of course, there's only a short jump from being an informed consumer to being a cynical one; really all it takes is having to listen to one too many derivative, or just slightly too knowing records, and yes, if you're looking to pick faults in Blondes' debut there are plenty to be found. Not just that if you don't give it your full attention then it becomes a bit of a blur, but that it's a long album (and an even longer one if you count the second disc of remixes) that splurges most of its best ideas in the first track; that the intriguing ideas suggested by the track names don't really add up to anything when you hear them; that it's nothing particularly new - both in the sense that the majority of the album has already been released as singles and that there are other artists who have walked this path before them; or, y'know that the idea of House music that you can in no way dance to seems spectacularly pointless (personally, I found it worked best as fuel for treadmill-based reveries). You could do all that, but you'd be better off just going with it, admitting that you're probably not going to find another record quite so beautifully produced this year, or quite so warmly inviting, or just quite so full of lovely stuff.
So, in other words: great album, shame about the review. I do feel bad for letting you - you wonderful, brilliant, informed consumer - down, but considering my opinion can, and possibly should, be boiled down to the words "Buy this record!!!" (preferably written over and over, The Shining style, albeit in a luridly coloured, 72pt sized font) I'm also surprised I managed to get this much material out of it.13 February, 2012 - 09:01 — Mark Davison