Making electronic music can be easy, or it can be the hardest thing in the world. It all depends on the route you take. Some artists use rudimentary software and synthesizer presets to whip tunes together in a matter of minutes. But others opt to create instrument and drum sounds themselves, sampling sounds and tweaking knobs for countless hours before setting out to make beats and melodies.
For their new, self-titled album, Brooklyn's The Blow decided to do things the hard way. During the span of several years, the artsy electro-pop duo hunkered down to record samples of analog instruments and vintage synthesizers. For drums, they sought the help of Bashiri Johnson, a friend who used to play percussion for Michael Jackson.
The point was to create a brand-new sonic library to work with—an ambitious and noble endeavor, to be sure, but also a bit of a crazy one. The duo didn't have a budget or, at first, even a label to release the album. They didn't have as many friends in New York City as they did back in their former home base of Portland, Ore. And recording the album proved to be a lot harder than expected.
"We actually thought we would get it done in 2011: Oh, we'll do it in like four months. It'll be cool,'" recalls Khaela Maricich, who plays in the duo with her girlfriend, Melissa Dyne. "We didn't understand the complexity of what we were trying to do, which is good, I think—sort of like having a baby. You don't really want to understand how much your body is going to stretch to let the baby out."
Now, the baby has finally been delivered, and, well, it looks kind of weird. The Blow's sweetly-sung melodies, punchy beats and love-obsessed lyrics don't have quite the same spark as the hits off of The Blow's previous album, 2006's smash indie breakup classic Paper Television. In "Hey," it sounds like the duo is stumbling around in the dark, tripping over a mess of bass lines, synths and flutes.
Still, as any electronic tinkerer would know, miraculous things can happen when you put everything on the line and venture into uncharted territory. The Blow (out now on Kanine) might be flawed, but it's also beautiful, infectious and occasionally downright sexy. " In walks a nurse from a hot French movie / And tells me she can do things to me," Maricich sings on "I Tell Myself Everything," a whimsical gem that's peppered with indelible one-liners. " I like getting things done to me."
Maricich, 38, started The Blow—who'll play with Kisses and Love Inks at The Casbah on Tuesday, Oct. 29—as a solo project in 2002. Before that, she'd been performing under the name Get the Hell Out of the Way of the Volcano, a name that, in all its unwieldy glory, says a lot about where she's coming from. Over the years, she and her collaborators have insisted on forging their own weird creative path; whoever gets exposed to the music will end up titillated, heartsick and/or totally confused.
On Paper Television, Maricich teamed with bandmate Jona Bechtolt (also from the Portland group YACHT) to deliver epic statements on love and heartbreak. But instead of recruiting a fancy Swedish production team to polish their tunes for top-40 radio, they relied on a low-budget combination of blooping bass lines, skittering beats and sweet, untrained vocal turns—plus the occasional fake saxophone.
Bechtolt left The Blow in 2007 to focus on YACHT, and not long after, Maricich moved with Dyne to New York City. There, they honed a curious, performance-art-style live show: In a 2009 review, a critic from Miami New Times describes Maricich standing onstage by herself, singing to a backing track on a laptop, waxing conceptual about an album collaboration with Lindsay Lohan.
The Lohan collaboration was pure fiction; Maricich says she wanted to explore her fascination with the one-time teenage starlet's romantic relationship with DJ Samantha Ronson. "I felt like I could relate to her," she says. The songs from those shows formed the basis for The Blow, with the album gradually taking shape during the next few years.
Dyne is a seasoned installation artist with a nuanced understanding of sound waves and light waves. Maricich has a gift for finely crafted lyricism, and her singing voice has really matured since Paper Television. But neither of them had experience in producing a record prior to making this album, and Maricich says there were plenty of moments where they felt discouraged—like nobody understood what they were doing, least of all themselves.
Eventually, though, they stopped worrying about what the world might think and just pushed forward.
"You gotta try something. Put it out there. It doesn't even matter if people like it," she says. "It's like trying to do a complicated pyramid while you're waterskiing. You can't all be looking off to the sides and seeing whether or not people like it and whether it's working.
"You just have to get into it and make it happen."
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