[23 April 2007]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The reissue has become a double-edged sword in the musical world. In some cases, the reissue is a necessity, allowing essential, long out-of-print albums (say, Neil Young’s On the Beach) to see the light of day. In other cases, the reissue is used to cash in on a band’s sudden popularity by hocking its early and often uninspiring work. This all makes for some anxiety when a band I truly admire, like the Blow, offers a reissue in the form of Poor Aim: Love Songs.
I’m happy to say that this 2004 EP is altogether worthy of reissue. Originally created for the Pregnancy Series, a group of limited edition EPs released by States Rights Records and Slender Means Society, Poor Aim: Love Songs is a brief but punchy piece of pop music. The album marks the first collaboration between the Blow’s primary member, Khaela Maricich, and Jona Bechtolt (now a full-time member of the band) and the results are often fantastic. The pair set out, successfully, to create a mini concept record filled with radio-style pop songs about misfired affection. “Hey Boy”, the album’s opener, stomps in with a heavy hand-clap beat, and then some subtle guitar—from Wolf Colonel’s Jason Anderson—floats in just before Maricich’s pleading voice sings, “Hey boy, why you didn’t call me?”. Then she begins listing reasons, both touching and absurd in their delivery, why said boy didn’t call. Maybe he is gay, or has a girlfriend, or thinks she came on too strong. Later in the song, we hear a litany of trite explanations Maricich gets from her girlfriends. All this, we come to find, started when they spoke at a party and the narrator thought the two of them connected. There is something both simple and intricate in Maricich’s rendering of this situation. We’ve all met someone and had that moment, and sometimes they are the person we’ve been looking for, and sometimes you call them seven times the next day and they get a restraining order.
This is the gift Maricich and Bechtolt display on Poor Aim. The songs are deceptive in their depth. The production here is clean, and the music threadbare, relying mostly on the beat and Maricich’s charming lilt to drive the song forward. But there are subtleties that elevate the songs throughout. On “The Sky Opened Like the Tide”, the bass starts out droning, sliding along with some synth notes, before breaking into crisp, distinctive notes, amping up the tension as the narrator is once again in search of that connection at a party, getting lost and frantic in a crowd of strangers. Hand claps, and the occasional breathy ha, ha in the background, make “Hock It”, arguably the album’s best song, seem more churning and obsessed.
The Blow also succeeds in getting the most out of only a few elements. It’s easy, when crafting this sort of minimal electro-pop, to let every song sound the same. But the pace is mixed here, most notably in the closer, “Come on Petunia”. The song starts with Maricich singing the chorus to the Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” in a creepy near-whisper over Bechtolt’s shuffling, dark production. Between repetitions of the Sting-penned chorus, Maricich speak-sings some rapid fire verses, and the lyrics provide the EP with an interesting arc. Her characters seem to have figured out that this whole finding love thing isn’t easy, and Maricich’s deflated delivery of “Every Little Thing …”, coupled with her quick, but drained voice on the verses shows these people have been beaten down. But they are still searching for ways to find love, to push on. There is little optimism left in them, but their sheer stubbornness, even if delusional (one boy in this song wonders if, even now, he could propose to the girl in “some old-fashioned way”) reveals these people aren’t just horny teenagers. Maricich has given us an album of characters who want hard, and want all the time, and will find what they want or fall apart trying.
Like most reissues, it’s interesting to see this release in light of the Blow’s most recent, and brilliant, album Paper Television. You can feel the band starting to cultivate the minimalist sound it has since nailed. The songs of Poor Aim, while great in their own right, aren’t quite as polished as “Parentheses” or “Pile of Gold”. Still, it is interesting to look back on a band’s work and see how it got to where it is. And in the end, this may be the biggest benefit to these sorts of reissues, that they shed some light on process and song craft. That so many of these reissued albums fail to stand on their own is unfortunate, but the Blow’s Poor Aim: Love Songs is a solid effort, able to stand on its own—a release suited for those who are already fans of the band, or those just looking to get their feet wet.