Blondes’ self-titled debut album was one of 2012’s most striking releases. An electronic album rooted in a kind of swirling mechanistic spirit, the sounds didn’t come from traditional forms of dance culture. Yes, there were echoes of house’s rhythmic pulse and techno’s sense of propulsion, but these sounds were all filtered through the Brooklyn duo of Sam Haar and Zach Steinman’s idiosyncratic approach. The sound became something quite special; a transcendent journey through dance’s ghostly otherworld.
The duo’s follow up Swisher, released as a full stream on YouTube a month ahead of its original release date, is another intense exploration that plunges ever deeper into a dark and brooding techno soundscape. Perhaps what makes Blondes’ approach to electronic music so beguiling is their background. Both members met at Oberlin College in 2003 and have spent much of their time studying electro acoustic composition while finding ways to manipulate and distort analogue sound. When this approach is applied to making repetitive and hypnotic dance music, it creates a sound that blurs the lines between the body and the mind.
On Swisher, the duo have successfully refined and developed the startling approach of their debut. It’s a far more intense and abrasive listen. There is a brooding, malevolent quality to the creeping rhythmic patterns that make up tracks like the nine-minute Bora Bora. From a slow building beginning, the track builds and builds, creating the feeling that it could go on forever. The aggressive quality of the punishing beat and mesmerising cycle is certainly exhausting but it gives a sense of perverse pleasure rather than pain. Blondes’ music is designed to heighten all sense of emotion and feeling.
Elsewhere, the album is filled with long tracks that are akin to sonic journeys. The music starts sparsely and quietly before building up to a climax then fragmenting and drifting off. The rhythmic percussive feeling of tracks like Andrew and the dazzling sensory overload of the title track indicate the duo’s greater feel for composition and ability to blend their music into one lucid and deeply vivid whole. While Blondes was built around joy in repetition, Swisher is that bit more mysterious and allusive.
Where Swisher really succeeds is that many of these tracks are equally suited to bedroom introspection, in their ambient rhythmic texture, or to warped dance floor exaltation, from the glitchy fractured Clasp, or intense body shaking dance floor release in the form of monolithic pieces of precise and brutal techno like the harder edged build of Wire, or Poland’s rather more spacey swirling synths and samples. Songs like these are indicative of a rich and compelling tapestry of electronic sounds, structures and patterns.
There is a sense that perhaps Swisher is Blondes pushing their oblique take on dance culture by way of rhythmic experimentation as far as it can go, but there’s no doubt that where they have taken it is to an entirely new and sublime level. The album’s final track is the perfect example of a joyous and celebratory release – the culmination of their sound exploration. Elise is a fittingly stunning way to end the album. Building slowly in keeping with the rest of the album, the track blossoms into a quiet grandeur. The synthesiser sounds are bursts of colour, vivid and joyous. It acts as a wonderfully euphoric climax to a staggeringly immersive sonic experience.