When your debut album is widely applauded and critics and audiences anxiously await the next record, most young bands would build on their first release and aim to perfect the sound they have introduced. Well, unless you are Portland’s Blouse.
In 2011, Blouse’s self-titled debut album was ten tracks of near-perfect dream pop. The spacy “Into Black”, the ’80s-inspired, dance-pop “Videotapes”, and the Joy Division-esque “White” were the highlights. The band showed tremendous promise by translating the music of an era known more for over-synthesized music, bad fashion trends, and poofy hairstyles into one that was more atmospheric and engrossing with the right balance of instrumentation overtop of a mid-tempo pace.
In September of 2013, Blouse released Imperium, which caught pretty much everyone off guard as it was not a follow-up to Blouse. While Imperium isn’t at the opposite end of the music spectrum, Blouse did away with the synthesizer and drum machine and produced a guitar-focused, near lo-fi indie-rock album.
Imperium isn’t a complete departure from the debut. It still retains the dreamy, airy sound, thanks, in large part, to frontwoman Charlie Hilton’s whispery vocals and the throbbing bass of Patrick Adams. The melodies, hooks, and rifts are also reminiscent of ’80s and early ’90s rock, and the album at times has the feel of R.E.M.’s Eponymous and Veruca Salt’s American Thighs.
The opening, titled track is a sweeping, boppy number. “1000 Years” is the closest track resembling mid-career R.E.M. – from the acoustic guitar groove to the lyrics of following one to the end of the earth. “A Feeling Like This” is a mid-tempo, bubbly song (you’ll get what I mean by bubbly when you listen to the song and watch the video below) that likely will leave you smiling.
“No Shelter” is infectious with Adams’ hooky bassline. “Arrested” is arguably the best track, starting off with a quick pace set by the rhythm section before escalating into a full-throttle guitar assault – at least live, where the band lets loose and wail on their guitars.
It will be interesting to see in which direction Blouse heads next. Will they stay the course with the indie-rock sound, return to the dream-pop of their debut LP, mix the two, or do something unexpected. I’m leaning towards the latter.
(Blouse is currently on tour, supporting The Dum Dum Girls. They recently stopped in Montreal, which I was fortunate to see them play roughly a 40-minute set at Il Motore. Original band member, Jacob Portrait, is unfortunately not with the band, as Unknown Mortal Orchestra, for whom he plays bass, just completed a tour.)
It’s difficult to describe the music of Montreal-based band Suuns. The best descriptor is experimental rock, as at any point on their albums or during their live shows the music could be deep house Detroit, doom rock oriented, trip hop, down-tempo rock, post-rock, or combining all of these textures into one.
When listening to their albums, it is, therefore, easy to get lost and confused in trying to understand what the young quartet is trying to accomplish. Frontman Ben Shemie’s monotone and understated vocals are mumbling and incoherent at times, which adds to the confusion. But after seeing them live, it all makes sense, as the band can string out 3- or 4-minute songs into explosive anthems and epic stories. Shemie’s voice also is not intended to be the focus of the music, but rather is just one element of an array of sounds. This dynamic makes the music not just purely entertainment or the album another recording or a concert just another performance, but rather it is an experience.
At their show at the Blacksheep Inn this past Saturday, Suuns opened with, “Drone”, a hypnotique, brooding, doom-rock-like number. That was followed up with a mid-tempo, head-pounding “Powers of Ten”, the opening track from their last album, 2013’s Images du Futur, and pulsating, trance tune, “Music Won’t Save You”, also from Images.
Then the house party broke out, starting with “Hip Hop”, another trip-hop inspired number, and that was followed by the mesmerizing “2020”, which was transformed into a 10-minute eruption of synth beats and shrilling guitar. The dance party continued with the epic “Bambi”, as the audience swayed side-to-side as Shemie repeatedly sang, “Do you want to, want to share”.
“Arena” was the first track from SUUNS’ debut album, 2010’s Zeroes QC, to be played during the show, which slowed things down. “Edie’s Dream” got the groove going a bit, as the audience roared as it heard the familiar, opening basslines to the track. “Slow Jam”, another new track, and “Sunspot” followed in the set. “E-Jam” closed the show – an 8-minute frenzy of chaotic drums, crushing percussion, and hallow synths.
The Blacksheep Inn show was the last one Suuns will play in North America for a little while. They are off to Europe next month, playing at several festivals across the continent.
Suuns consists of Ben Shemie, Liam O’Neill, Max Henry, and Joseph Yarmush.
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