The Blow - Brand New Abyss

by Joseph Majsterski Rating:7 Release Date:2017-09-22

Brooklyn-based duo The Blow (Khaela Maricich and Melissa Dyne) are back with their new album, Brand New Abyss, and it sees the pair sanding off most of the rough edges present on older albums like Paper Television and angling more towards songs like its 'True Affection': simple, quiet electropop led by vocalist Khaela Maricich's almost-spoken, gentle singing.

In a break with their previous works, Brand New Abyss is self-published and was funded on Pledge Music. It's also relatively short, with only eight songs, two of which are covers. And they're pretty odd, amusing choices for songs to cover. The first is the 1970s Eagles classic 'Peaceful Easy Feeling'. I'm personally not an Eagles fan at all, but this cover is so far away from the original that I quite enjoy it anyway. The basic beats, clockwork melodies, and sweet singing utterly transform it. The other cover is equally out there, Whitney Houston's overdone 1980s ballad 'The Greatest Love of All'. Here Maricich, unable to match Houston's soaring performance (and really, who can?) switches up the vocal melody completely into a wandering, introspective thing. The only other components to the song are sparse synth blurts and clicks. Again, if you didn't know the origins beforehand, you'd never guess them.

As for the original content, it spans a range between austere synthpop and spacey near-IDM. 'Dark Cold Magic' has a melody that comes off as pure initially but goes a little crooked here and there. 'So There' is like drifting in a derelict spaceship through an asteroid field with Maricich as the pilot. It feels like it floats dangerously close to the sun at times, with waves of crispy pads washing over your brain.

'The Woman You Want Her To Be' is an awesome, rambling piece of stream-of-consciousness spoken word backed by a stompy, frazzled beat and punctuated by interdimensional synth pulses. Maricich packs so much sarcastic power into her speech, ordering the listener to treat the song's subject as an object rather than as a person, as a set piece rather than a character. I'm reminded of the off-kilter musings of Miranda July both in tone and composition.

'Get Up' is a high-energy, clomping tune, with Maricich sounding much more insistent, almost angry for once as it sways back and forth between its high and low chords. 'Think About Me' is the polar opposite, and unlike most of the album, which sounds outside of time and impossible to place, it comes off as very late 20th century. The synth bass in particular, with its slightly echoey effect, sounds like it was pulled out of the closet and dusted off for one just more song. The wheedling high synths give more of a retro space adventure quality to the tune though. The album closes with 'Summer', which really has nothing to do with the season, instead driven by a low, vaguely harpsichordesque synth and lightly swaddled by Maricich at her breathiest.

This is a good album, but it lacks a "killer single" like 'Make It Up' from 2013's self-titled set. It's too weird for that, and I can't see a song that provides an easy entry. Still, it's clear the pair are making music they love, and the playfulness running through the set keeps it from coming off as sterile or soulless, which is definitely possible in the realms they're exploring. If you know the band, you'll like the album, as its connection to their body of work helps to ground it. Otherwise, check it out if you're interested it a bizarre take on synthpop and electronic ambient tropes.

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