By Russell Warfield
Writing about Blondes puts me out of my comfort zones. I don’t know much about electronic music, and all its wobbly, wonky sub-genres. I have no idea whether the term ‘hipster house’ – the tag commonly attached to this duo – is meant to be serious, a joke, an insult, or some combination of the three. But this doesn’t matter. You don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of the continental IDM scene to be ravished by Blondes. It’s a record which makes an immediate connection with its listener – bathing your ears in glorious textures, sharing with you an unbridled sense of joy. Just wait for the simple-but-oh-so-effective bass lick of opening track ‘Lovers’ to kick in, and you’ll know that this album is going to be your friend.
The Field is one of the most widely prevalent comparisons to be drawn with Blondes, and it is true to say that you can’t fail to hear their broad similarities – both acts hinging upon lush, blissed out sequencers looping in a gorgeous haze for ten minutes a time. But, whereas The Field seems to find a groove, and ride it out to its hedonistic extreme, Blondes’ music has a little more dynamism; a little more responsiveness; and puts a lot more stock in the charm of build and release. On these grounds, a further comparison can be drawn with an act like Fuck Buttons. Although altogether far less noisy, Blondes share their capacity to pull layers back, shift the textural focus, ramp up the tension, and add another component to the mix just at the moment you think the track has peaked. Opening track ‘Lover’ does this beautifully – riding its bass lick for a few minutes, yielding to a patchwork of primal vocal samples, and slowly eking the rhythm back into the fray before allowing everything to collide in its climactic finale.
And the low end on this thing is not sneaking about. Anchoring these tracks are fierce, metronomic bass kicks and no-fat bassline refrains, creating not only a robust rhythmic framework in and of itself, but also a foothold for the ear. The rhythm section often acts as a form of sleight of hand, allowing the sequencers and samplers to luxuriously shift their formations without drawing attention to themselves, swirling into euphoric new textures without the listener second guessing their development. Take the fabulous ‘Hater’, with its single note bassline throbbing at you like a succession of one-inch punches – sporadic at first, settling into a pulse, being yanked way and retrieved – your focus on the rhythm distracts you until the melodic ambitions of the sequencers sneak up on you from behind.
As I’ve said, you don’t need to be balls deep into the electronic music scene to adore Blondes, and that’s because this record is – at heart – so resolutely and effortlessly human. These cuts were recorded live and largely improvised – and it shows. These tracks always feel like they’re unfurling in a completely organic way, at the behest of a fierce performance instinct. As the music teases and pleases at the whims of its creators, it’s impossible not to think of Blondes shaping their improvisations in response to the rapturous delight they’re creating in both their audience and themselves. This is sensitive and conversational music – a beautiful antidote to the coldness and fixity of electronic junk which feels pre-programmed and predetermined. It’s the humanism of Blondes which makes this such an enrapturing way to be smothered by sound – managing to be simultaneously accessible and oblique; easy listening and high intensity; electronic and organic – a marvel, a delight, and absolutely brilliant.