[5 December 2006]
With love and hate on either side of the same heart, the two can sometimes get confused. What repulses, takes on allure, while that which attracts suddenly repels. With Paper Television the Blow address this dichotomous convergence on aesthetic and emotional levels. As an admitted indulgence in the flash and bombast of contemporary pop, the album acts as both sardonic critique and joyous romp. Over an expanded palette of bump, grind, and polish, Khaela Maricich revisits familiar themes of misdirected affection and unwanted advances. This keen appreciation of conflicted feelings, set against such a morbid fascination with disposable pop, makes for an album as endearing and insightful as it is fun.
Earlier endeavors as the Blow featured Maricich almost entirely alone and exposed over scattershot recordings, ranging from fey folk to lo-fi electro. The year 2004 brought Maricich together with Jona Bechtolt to produce a more refined and accessible set of songs on their Poor Aim: Love Songs EP. Paper Television carries on this collaboration to an even further level of finesse. Whereas their last effort together flirted with pop conventions, this one smothers that aesthetic in hugs and sloppy kisses. Groove goes first, followed by sustainable hooks. Bechtolt brings a buoyant assortment of bubbling beats and anxious rhythms as Maricich further perfects her coy and cloying affectations.
As an outright pop effort, the Blow fall somewhat short in matching the accepted levels of luster and flash from the big leagues. At best, Bechtolt’s tracks suggest a level of competency on the same level as Jimmy Tamborello. While he’s sure to set the Converse-clad feet of the indie scene shuffling, Scott Storch and Timbaland aren’t likely to lose any business to him. Maricich meanwhile, remains somewhat understated, no matter how much more convincing her delivery. She’s striking diva poses for the bathroom mirror with hairbrush in hand, but still not reaching for the high notes.
Still, this is hardly some shallow parody. Maricich and Bechtolt are entirely invested in their imitations, and that earnestness comes through. While there is still some trace of bemused detachment from the more commercial artists they appropriate, their sense of pleasure in the proceedings is palpable. Songs like “Pile of Gold” and “Eat Your Heart Up” are DFA remix-ready, while the digestive tract doo-wop ballad “Babay (Eat a Critter, Feel its Wrath)” is all at once gigglingly giddy, wince-worthy, and winsome.
As immediately enjoyable and instantaneously ingratiating as any of these tracks is, Maricich’s lyrics impart an even deeper impression. Never one to shy away from awkwardness or discomfort, Maricich continues her exploration of dark places people keep hidden. That approach plays itself out all too literally in “Babay (Eat a Critter, Feel its Wrath)”. Here Maricich casts herself as a smitten, yet masticated, remnant defiantly clinging to her beloved consumer’s intestine before being unwillingly excreted. While the inherent gross-out and pitiful plight of her character suggests vegetarian sympathies, the song goes well beyond that, alluding to the greater nature of love. Although giving in to her affections eventually decimates her, Maricich still projects some sense of satisfaction in having at least had the experience. Love proves itself all consuming, totally devastating, and completely worthwhile.
On yet another level, that same song is about politics both personal and otherwise. Along the way to her inevitably defecating defeat, Maricich fights for her love even as she acknowledges her powerlessness. Her hopeless, yet defiant struggle is inspiring no matter how unfortunate the outcome. This song, and others like “Fists Up”, serve as a rousing cry of persistence against insurmountable odds.
As trite as that sentiment may seem, the context in which the message is set makes it much more striking. This kind of existential empowerment is incredibly uncommon in contemporary pop. Especially amidst this tumultuous millennium, protest songs and rallying anthems have been conspicuously (and even painfully) absent. Using their most engaging set of songs to take on these themes of confrontation and resilience, the Blow prove that for all the escapism associated with pop, its potential is considerably more profound.