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Blondes - Lover/Hater

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Artist: Blondes

Album: Lover/Hater

Label: Rvng Intl.

Review date: May. 24, 2011

Blondes is not a difficult band. The stately, yet breezy electronic sound of their debut EP, Touched, married Manuel Göttsching’s E2–E4 to free-floating House and Balearic reference points — a piano vamp, a chilled-out 4/4 beat — with deeply satisfying, totally accessible results. Discussions of lasting value aside, Touched was a moment in the redeeming of synths: a pure electronic record that doesn’t require much in the way of suspension of disbelief. Being able to jump so easily into Blondes’ world of 10-minute power meditations is intoxicating … but that ease of access is notably lacking on their latest, the vinyl-only “Lover”/”Hater” 12” single. While “Lover”/”Hater” couldn’t be described as a departure, it does sound like the duo of Sam Haar and Zach Steinman are starting to articulate a more specific vision for their project, and the results are intriguing.

This single is the first in a series of three, supposedly exploring different dualities. It’s impossible to gauge just how much “Lover” and “Hater” embody these extremes, but their relationship is indeed complicated. Both tracks are choppier and take longer to come together than anything on Touched, so it’s not a question of love vs. aggression — it’s more like the stripped-down “Hater” is the afterimage of the double-stuffed “Lover.” Side A might be an attempt at an exhaustive portrait of Blondes circa now, or a lengthy first draft. From its opening prismatic synth pulses and the rubber-band groove that eventually emerges, it’s familiar territory. But a Meredith Monk sample, which gradually fades in about halfway through, complicates things. Removed from the safe context of art music, in the middle of this heaving, not quite danceable track, it sounds sort of scary — like an ethnographic recording from a New Age healing center in New Mexico or, more succinctly, like this. Blondes have a talent for working with voices — as on Touched opener “You Mean So Much to Me” — but the technique here is disruptive. That song’s filtered vocal samples are like a nice breeze pushing your yacht downwind; here, Monk’s voice is like a shark ramming your dinghy from below.

“Hater,” despite being the shorter and less fussed-over of the two songs, ends up leaving more of an impression. Unexpectedly, the track opens with a bit of Drexciyan drum programming — those crisply syncopated hi-hats that spray a little salt-water mist. There’s also a long passage with an enormous, turbid bass drum that makes the track lurch. By the time they phase in the more pleasant parts, the track is almost over, and the synth melody they started to work out is cut short. Whether they ran out of tape or deliberately left the track somewhat unfinished (compared to their other tracks, where each idea is meticulously explored until it’s exhausted), Blondes get good mileage from a little enigma. The music is starting to extend beyond the running time.

Blondes nailed a specific sound their first time out, one that seemed so familiar it rendered the fact that they invented it almost invisible. If this single is any indication, they’re starting to assert their own identity more, to be part of the process of making sense. For a band that prizes improvisation, it’s counterintuitive that their productions would take on more dimensions as the underlying structure becomes harder to make out. Yet “Lover”/”Hater” is challenging because it’s hard to tell if Blondes are rambling or subtly recreating their approach.

By Brandon Bussolini

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