It’s been four years since The Blow put out a new album—the last being their self-titled release in 2013. A lot has happened in the outside world since then, socially, politically and musically. The same, however, seemingly cannot be said for the interior worlds of the band members. In fact, their new album, Brand New Abyss, is a dramatic downturn from the 2013 effort as well as the band’s 2006-07-era releases, Poor Aim: Love Songs and Paper Television.
Released by K Records, the earlier albums exemplified the label’s bedroom pop sound while also embracing aspects of performance art. Like many other listeners, I was bewitched by the simplicity of the band’s sound at the time, notably the spoken-sung lyrics and the minimal but cheerful chirps of samples and sparse instrumentation. The Blow made music that was best experienced live or while dancing in socks in the living room, and either of those was a great thing to behold. The 2013 release incorporated more samples, stretching the sound to a slightly darker realm; less danceable but more layered. While some of these elements are also present in Brand New Abyss, the effect is wholly different.
The beats on the new album are less infectious and utterly lacking in charm or depth. The confessional tone of many of the songs, a commonality with the duo’s past work, comes across as emotionally monotone and tired-sounding this time around. Overall, Brand New Abyss feels insular, but not in an inviting or cozy way—just unnecessarily shallow, unfinished, or out of touch. In discussing their process for this latest release, members Khaela Maricich and Melissa Dyne describe working in seclusion as part of their approach to creating the new work. Perhaps the album would have benefitted from more, and more diverse, outside influences.
Maricich and Dyne have been collaborating as The Blow since 2007 and each proclaims an interest in exploring the space at the intersection of music and performance art. The latter has always played an important role in the experience of The Blow’s music, so it’s as possible that the missing element on the new album is the performative aspect that just doesn’t translate to recordings.
As is, the recorded work is largely flat and unexciting. Maricich and Dyne are borrowing from themselves at the best of times, blatantly derivative of others at the worst. This sense is heightened by the large number of covers on the album, including The Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All,” which are equally unsuccessful in breathing new creative energy into recognizable songs.
Even the more listenable songs on Brand New Abyss, such as “So There” and “The Woman You Want,” sound more like a successful regurgitation of past sounds and ideas than anything new. And while that’s not a bad thing, it’s not enough of a reason to spend time listening to the new album. Pull on your dancing socks and revisit the duo’s older work instead.