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Blondes have always functioned on that peculiar convergence of mind and body; the Brooklyn duo’s self-titled debut album, released last year, was an unpretentious realisation of when EDM became IDM, coming across as a sort of light-hearted, meditative dance. It probably helped that Zach Steinman and Sam Haar aren’t of a strictly club background, their respective experience in visual art and sound installation making ‘Blondes’ a more contemplative work by their very process. Born in the bedroom and realised, live, on the dance floor, somehow that bookish, delicate trance took hold, and the New York-based duo found themselves performing everywhere from MoMA to Ibiza. Their second album ‘Swisher’ is the ecstatic outcome of those experiences.
Building on a foundation of bent electronica, that element of the debut’s wavering drone is still present in their follow-up – but rather than the shy strut of ‘Blondes’, ‘Swisher’ is a crunching, dizzy excursion into the depths of introspection. That doesn’t mean the record lacks movement or precision, by any means. In fact, it’s a far more incisive and dance-friendly record, as a flood of synth ambience is set on a determined kick drum thump in Andrew, and a gnawed, demented rhythm anchors the wandering decay envelope, on the edge of escape, in Rei.
At first, I found Blondes’ affiliation with RVNG Intl odd. Their blissed-out build-ups and camp aesthetic seemed almost too glib for the tastes of Matt Werth’s still vaguely rockist label, bred in punk and leading recent trends across nu-disco, hypnagogic collaborations and the heady concepts of Holly Herndon’s ‘Movement’. But now, in keeping with the nightclub evolution of Stellar OM Source into askew techno, the general vibe of these slightly “off” club tracks from relative outsiders gravitating towards it, Blondes’ surprise stream of this August release is no exception.
No longer bound to the fluttering romance and strange exoticism of something like the Meredith Monk-sampling self-titled opener, Lover, tracks like Aeon are hurled into a woozy somnambulant organ line, before the aggressive insistence of Bora Bora carries through to the electric crackle of the album’s title track. Here, the insistent thud of a hollow beat, distant crashes and
an epic synth build-up reach their climax and stay there, before fading and fragmenting into crooked rhythmic palpitations. It’s as if these degenerate sounds mirror the dissolving of awareness of reality as one moves deeper into the mind, their only anchor to consciousness the physical cues of a mechanical impulse that persists even when concentration withers away.
There’s a reason the ‘Swisher’ stream was released on YouTube. It’s an (exactly) one hour-long opus that ebbs and flows, crumbles and rebuilds itself, over a powerful current of lucid pulsations and hazy conceptual abstractions. Because where last year’s ‘Blondes’ met at a physical and metaphysical juncture, ‘Swisher’’s duality is far less distinguishable and infinitely more rewarding.