There are few more terrifying moments in pop than when bright young things decide to box up their synths and 808s and toss them into the garbage in some doomed folly to “Find themselves and get real”. In other words, “goodbye, magic and capes” and “hello, beards and corduroy”. It’s particularly tragic when the beat combo involved, Blouse—possibly the most brilliantly un-rock-and-roll band name ever—once produced such a lusciously light-headed, synth-friendly eponymous debut. Ask yourself this, would you turn off the machine? Pull the plug? O, Mercy. Surely this be the devil’s work!
The first half of the majestically titled but synth-free Imperium doesn’t quite beguile as before. Our Portland trio—fronted by hallucinogenic poet and spectral star-in-the-making Charlie Hilton—still looks through a glass darkly into rainy, brokenhearted bedsits circa 1989, but in a rawer, grungier, and slightly less huggable haze. “Imperium” itself is all Kim Deal rumble and wandering Morrisseys—“Are you one of us?” squints Hilton—while “Eyesite” tumbles with the frantic, snowballing rush-and a-push of “The Queen Is Dead”. Blouse’s vision appears more clawed, blurred, and smeared thick with mud, dust, and perfume than before. Hilton, forever touching from a distance, skips with sweet sadness through the Nico-frosted “1000 Years” and the Nirvana swaying punch of “In A Glass”. “I put my love in a glass / You had it all but you drink so fast,” she sighs on the latter, the eternal romantic cursed with a stitch of marked darkness. The Sergio Leone graveyard of centerpiece “Capote” blows colder still. Hilton is awash in midnight fog, to the dunes and into the sea, drawn deep by a whirlwind cacophony of wild guitar and swirling percussion. So far, easy to respectfully admire if not quite invite in for tea and scones.
Blouse proves far more confident, convincing, compelling, and frankly lovable across Imperium‘s more enjoyable second half. The sultry and groovily tripped-out “A Feeling Like This” recaptures the stellar, melodic magic that made their imperial debut burn so brightly. There’s “Into Black”, “Videotapes”, the sound of sparkle in the rain. All drawing lips and heavy eyelids—a glamour trance lost in its own beautifully fucked up world. “No Shelter” is a tipsy, grungy dancer with Seattle fuzz and lustful intent (“Give me your body / I need a thing to hold”) while the flickering waltz of “Happy Days” is the sound of Prom night on LSD. Slow-tracing comet tails across the sky, “I have stars in my eyes / And they’re all my life / Little tiny dots”. After the Sonic Youth bloodrush of the pounding “Arrested”, Imperium crashes to the floor exhausted with “Trust Me”. From skiffle bass and the heavenly “Talky-bit” to its “dance me to the end of the time” crescendo, it’s a coolly charming way to softly awake from Blouse’s dizzy dreaming.
Imperium is a mix of the contrarily scruffy and the magnetically mesmerizing. If it can’t quite illuminate those sad Sunday skylines like their “Fireworks in slow motion” (or, “Synths have feelings too”) debut, Blouse’s misty hypnotism still retains a smartly seductive allure.