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Artist: Blondes

Album: Blondes

Label: Rvng Intl.

Review date: Feb. 17, 2012

Sam Haar and Zach Steinman play loose but with rare assurance. Blondes, their first full-length, holds it down, but doesn’t do much more. I have yet to read an interview with the Brooklyn duo that doesn’t get into their jam-based approach to making music. When they released their deeply involving debut EP, Touched, two years ago, their brand of dance music came out so fully formed that their process was an interesting but extraneous fact. With the release of Blondes, which corrals three previously released, opposites-themed 12″s, a new pair of tracks created for the album (“Amber”/“Gold”) and remixes, it becomes a more important part of the story. The hooks that made Touched‘s ecstatic comedowns so pleasantly substantial are almost absent here, and the “jamming” that’s replaced them leaves these tracks feeling hollow.

That isn’t to say that the album doesn’t evince growth, or isn’t successful reorienting Blondes’ sound away from pretty, indie-friendly hooks and toward a more straight-up dance focus. Blondes’ palette is darker, with most tracks propelled by a steady kick and rubbery smacks of bass, around which more tentative elements graze. Without changing their process, Blondes have either excised or deemphasized the piano vamps and stippled vocal samples of the first EP that might have denoted “hipster house” were they not so tastefully deployed. A track like “Water” is structurally similar to the music on Touched, but considerably pared down, their former lavish sunset colors toned down to a sere monochrome. The jamming itself is certainly more dialed in and nuanced, a result of two years of touring and moving from indie rock venues to bona fide dance clubs. It’s a subtle rearrangement, and an honest response to their surroundings, but a little too restrained to deliver on their debut’s promise.

When everything comes together, as on “Wine,” darkly reflective synth chords convey heady drug vertigo and fearful dancing. The melodies are fleshed out, and there’s a sense of momentum along with the out-of-reach foreboding. But the majority of the tracks here are enjoyable and forgettable, chasing their own tail without delivering any particular mood. Touched was thrilling because could learn and inhabit its states of being. In that context, “jamming” equaled craft, labor, rawness and immediacy over “Ableton-sculpted grooves aimed for the dancefloor.” Blondes’ tracks are more consciously shaped for the dancefloor, but haven’t figured out a way to rise above pleasantness.

Musically and on the page, they come across as self-aware, genuine and generous. Touched spirited the listener away to balmy comedown bliss reliably and with panache, while Blondes edges toward something both less distinct and darker. Remixes from heavy hitters like Andy Stott and John Roberts deliver some of the collection’s most revisitable moments, shedding some light on what’s missing. On the other hand, Teengirl Fantasy’s contribution feels flimsy and pro-forma, and Laurel Halo’s is too Laurel Halo-like to be of much interest. Still, I’d be more apt to revisit the remixes over Blondes’ originals, which feel like noble but unaffecting attempts to evolve.

By Brandon Bussolini

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