There seems to be a rich seam of dreamy-voiced girls singing over the top of hazy, reverb-rich sounds at the moment. Melody’s Echo Chamber does it well, as do Beach House, and Still Corners. Blouse are another one to add to the list.
The Portland, US-based band are musicians Jacob Portrait (who also plays for Unknown Mortal Orchestra) and Patrick Adams as well as singer Charlie Hilton. I discovered their 2011 self-titled LP last year, falling in love with tracks like Into Black, Videotapes, and They Always Fly Away. It was dark and mysterious, beguiling and quite beautiful – ‘dream pop’ for want of a better genre.
Imperium is in a similar vein, although this time they’ve done away with the trippy synths and drum machines, and have instead recorded with ‘instruments that don’t plug into the wall’, so says the press release. It is indeed more guitar-friendly than the previous release and has a more alt-rock feel. That said, it still sounds like Hilton’s voice is coming to us through some sort of fuzzy-filtered dream of decades past, which is what I also liked about the first album.
Hilton also has this way of singing, carefully pronounced, elongated vowels, that almost makes it sound like English isn’t her first language – had I not checked, I would’ve had her pegged for Swedish or German, particularly on tracks like 1000 years. I think comparisons to Broadcast will be inevitable and are flattering to Blouse. There’s a lot that reminds me of Tender Buttons, with Hilton’s vocals very much like Trish Keenan’s – pretty, lilting, echoey and ethereal.
Top tracks for me are catchy title track Imperium, In A Glass (‘I put my love in glass, you had it all, but you drink so fast’) the atmospheric Capote, which almost sounds like in could be lifted from a country and western film soundtrack, and In A Feeling Like this, where Hilton almost speaks her seductive way through, rather than singing.
This all said, Imperium hasn’t blown me away, and I do prefer the first album if I’m honest. It was more evocative and interesting, and I’m loathe to say it, but perhaps a few more synths wouldn’t have gone astray on this new offering. They seem to have lost a bit of mystery, but it’s still a perfectly nice listen, uncomplicated and enjoyable. They’re all pretty good songs. There’s a lot to like, and it can be easy for a band that has enjoyed some critical acclaim on a first album to sit back and trade in on the tried-and-tested. So they get points from me for not resting on their laurels too much.
by Patricia Turk