Shedding her pop origins, Sabrina Teitelbaum – a.k.a. Blondshell – delivers one of the great records of the year with her poignant, witty, and explosive, eponymous debut album.
Nearly a decade ago, Sabrina Teitelbaum performed as Baum, under which she released emotionally-charged pop songs, like “Effortless”. The project continued right up to 2020, but in the midst of the pandemic Teitelbaum redirected her focus. Like Alanis Morissette before her, the LA-based artist reinvented herself as Blondshell. In the process, indie rock’s / alternative rock’s next big star was born as Teitelbaum has given Gen Zers and Millennials their Jagged Little Pill in the form of her eponymous debut album.
Blondshell is a raw, biting, and often explosive record that intelligently and wittingly tackles life in 2023. At times, it rages and roars, and other moments it calmly lulls and even amuses before the knockout blow arrives. Opening track, “Veronica Mars”, is the latter. As Teitelbaum’s electric guitar nonchalantly chugs along, she recounts how her life once revolved around the popular Kirsten Bell series, living vicariously through Bell’s character. She describes how “Casey’s on the can / With a towel draped over” while “Logan’s a dick”, but she tolerates them because she needs this apartment – or this “shelter” as she repeats. Halfway through, the song erupts with Teitelbaum’s voice rising and her guitar wailing into a Lenny Kravitz-esque solo.
“Kiss City” and “Sepsis” at first seem like breezy numbers in the Phoebe Bridgers mould, but then Teitelbaum’s lyrics and the songs’ closing moments reveal something quite the opposite. The former possesses the traits of a great love song – mellow, graceful, and a bit tepid. However, Teitelbaum, doing her best Caroline Rose impression, delivers a line out of left field that completely changes the track’s tone. “I bet she talks dirty like she’s on a mission,” she cunningly sings. The song’s second half also surprises, transforming into an electrifying and gauzy anthem. “Sepsis”, meanwhile, melodically oscillates in its opening moments, but the tale is not one of love, peace, and harmony. “I know my therapist’s pissed / We both know he’s a dick / At least it’s the obvious kind,” Teitelbaum immediately reveals. The intensity then builds, and the tune turns into a gritty, swaying rocker.
“Joiner”, likewise, seems like a walk in the park with a melodic pop-rock approach highlighted by a terrific rhythm section. Urgency fills Teitelbaum’s voice while her lyrics are biting, a bit humorous, and all too real. She sings about how one person is about to hit rock bottom, some of which are self-inflicted. “You’ve been riding around on handlebars / Buying drugs from guys in cars / Asking, ‘Can I be someone else?’” While she watches this one-person car crash, she refuses to be a bystander. “I think I want to save you / I think I want to join in,” she emphatically shares, realizing that no person should have to suffer alone.
The album does feature more intimate, musical fare, but Teitelbaum’s poignant songwriting lyricism remain. The restrained yet gritty “Olympus” sees Teitelbaum honestly confront her “addiction” to another person even though that individual is dealing with their own addictions. This story continues on the tranquil “Sober Together”, but this time Teitelbaum has reached her limit. “Call me, I wanna be there for you / But not in a way that lets you take me down with you,” she pleads.
Blondshell‘s biggest moments – and that most resemble alt-rock’s 1990s glory days – reside in two songs. First is “Tarmac”, which is a slow-building, head-swaying number. The track immediately drips with desperation, as the guttural guitar complements Teitelbaum’s downtrodden vocal. She explains how she cannot “stay away from my new friends / I think I’m losing myself.” It’s not their companionship that Teitelbaum seeks, but rather she cannot stand to be alone. She brilliantly captures her state of mind with the lyrics, “I’m in love with a feeling / Not with anyone or any real thing.”
The second showstopper is “Salad”, which is not just the LP’s centerpiece but one of the year’s most outstanding singles. A rage quietly lingers in the pummeling rhythms and Teitelbaum’s emotive vocal. Her words, on the other hard, are full of anger and pain. She recounts how an older, married man sexually assaulted her friend, and a hatred boils within Teitelbaum. The act has enraged her, as she hollers in his direction, “Look what you did, you’ll make a killer of a Jewish girl.” This rage, though, also is directed at the American justice system, as men are able to get away with almost anything, as Teitelbaum brilliantly captures.
“It doesn’t happen to women I know
I put it in a box in a TV show
It doesn’t happen to women I know
God tell me why did he hurt my girl
And she took him to the courthouse
And somehow he got off
Then I saw him laughing with his lawyer in the parking lot”
The honesty, poignancy, and emotion are what make Blondshell outstanding. And to think that only a few years ago Sabrina Teitelbaum was a rising star in pop music. However, she’s found her calling and her voice in an unexpected arena, and, in turn, delivered a debut album to remember. A record that will be remembered at the end of 2023 as one of the year’s very best. To say Blondshell is a spectacular achievement would be an understatement.
Blondshell is out on Partisan Records and available on Bandcamp and at these links.
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