Release Date: Sep 17, 2013
Record label: Captured Tracks
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Neo-Psychedelia
In 2011, Portland-based lo-fi dream poppers Blouse made their presence known with a lauded self-titled debut LP. Drum machines and synthesizers stood on the forefront of the ’80s-inspired collection, pierced only by the alto tones of singer Charlie Hilton’s unaffected voice. The group seemed to have found their bearings on their freshman effort—a rare feat—but now, two years later, the trio has redirected itself with this sophomore full-length, Imperium.
In the fall of 2011, the last thing the world needed was a song called "Videotapes" that sounded a little bit like a lost Human League hit dubbed onto an old, worn-out cassette. This kind of idea wasn't exactly novel: Chillwave had broken and crested, VHS nostalgia was inescapable, and bands claiming the tag "dream pop" were cropping up like dandelions in springtime-- was it really possible that none of them had already written something called "Videotapes"? It's a testament to Portland's Blouse, then, that the murky earworm bearing that particular name managed to stand out even among the crowded crop of hypnagogic pop. Maybe that's because, like "Videotapes", all the songs on their unexpectedly fresh self-titled debut were driven by the tension of opposing forces, as the heat generated from radiant, sun-bursting synths collided with the airy cool of Charlie Hilton's vocals.
Second albums are a sticky wicket: a band can either try to build on the sound of its debut and risk a sophomore slump, or try to prove it can do more than its first album allowed and risk alienating fans. Blouse pick the second option on Imperium, ditching their self-titled debut's hazy electro-pop for an eclectic sampling of grunge, shoegaze, and psychedelia. The switch is especially surprising since Blouse was widely praised, and it seemed like the band could have continued in -- or improved upon -- that direction with no trouble.
Don’t put your 501s and Doc Martens away just yet: the ‘90s revival rumbles on with the release of Blouse’s second album Imperium, leaving a trail of burnt-out effects pedals and Calvin Klein Eternity behind it. Imperium sees the Portland trio dropping the synths and drum machines of their self-titled 2011 debut and replacing them with live drums and tactile, effects-laden guitars. The result is a record of energetic, shoegaze-inflected, mildly gothic pop, the power-punk sugar hit of something like Elastica or Ash as seen through the distorted, sweetly sinister lens of Seventeen Seconds/Faith/Pornography-era The Cure.
The three-pronged Portland assault of BLOUSE has changed. Where blossoming wooze-flavoured synths, a hazy melange of pads and all manner of dreampop staples once reigned supreme, on Imperium there’s now a resurrection of late ’80s/early ’90s indie and padded-shoulder new wave. The sonic bracken and thickets of noise are organic, dishevelled and the kind of raw you get when your elbow meets asphalt.
There are few more terrifying moments in pop than when bright young things decide to box up their synths and 808s and toss them into the garbage in some doomed folly to “Find themselves and get real”. In other words, “goodbye, magic and capes” and “hello, beards and corduroy”. It’s particularly tragic when the beat combo involved, Blouse—possibly the most brilliantly un-rock-and-roll band name ever—once produced such a lusciously light-headed, synth-friendly eponymous debut.
There’s an angelic air that floats throughout the length of Imperium, the new album from Portland indie rock band, Blouse. It’s a resonating softness found mostly in the grace exuded by lead singer Charlie Hilton and you hear it within the first ten seconds of the title track, itself introduced by a Pixies-inspired bass throb and streaks of icy guitar sounds. Acoustic strums add on as the electricity attempts to sharpen the air around its construct in an effort to add an edge to what might otherwise be considered “dreamy.” This remains a pursuit that runs throughout most of the album.
With the psych rock/dream pop/call it what you will revival in full swing, separating the good from the bad and distinctly average is becoming a laborious pastime. Fortunately, Portland trio Blouse fall quite succinctly into the first category. Having only formed as recently as three years ago, mainly as a side-project for producer Jacob Portrait and art school graduates Charlie Hilton and Patrick Adams, they've established themselves as one of the most progressive outfits from a scene that's forever gazing into the past for inspiration.
Historically, bands who are inspired to change the roots of their sound often do so later-than-sooner. It’s rare that a “born-again” band reconstructs itself between the release of their debut and the making of studio album #2. But, of course, there are exceptions, and such is the case with Blouse on their second “debut” album, Imperium. As implemented by band member and producer Jacob Portrait, the Portland trio wrote and recorded with “instruments that don’t plug into the wall.” This is a giant step away from the group’s lovely, drum machine-fueled debut, Blouse, an ’80s-influenced, synth-plastered 21st century exploration.
On second album ‘Imperium’, Portland trio Blouse have taken even more care to disavow the slick sound of modern production than they did on their self-titled debut. If it’s true that for this record – as the band’s label bio suggests – member and producer Jacob Portrait insisted on “instruments that don’t plug into the wall”, then should a music career fail him he may want to take his negotiating skills to the UN. They could probably do with someone capable of actually carrying out what they say.The record itself is entirely sustained by the interplay between the band’s three basic elements.