Blouse : Blouse

Photo: Amanda Smith

I hope your hands are warm, as it's time to unbutton the Blouse and conduct a thorough examination in the name of Science.



Label: Captured Tracks
US Release Date: 2011-11-01
UK Release Date: 2011-11-07

“Hello Cleveland! We are BLOUSE and tonight we're gonna rock you, erm, tonight”. As monikers go, Blouse isn't going to strike fear into the souls of doting parents or incite knee-jerk holy joes' to instigate emergency meetings down at the town hall before commandeering Billy Bob's steamroller to destroy every last trace of this "Surely Satanic" band's existence. No. Blouse is a cutesy, frilly-pink-with-pigtails My Little Pony band name. But think twice before laying out the cream tea and scones Vicar, for it's a bit of a 'fiendishly trojan horse'-style band name too. Rum doings are afoot as, like a bellyful of crafty Greeks polishing their knives, Portland's Blouse like to play in the shadows.

Yes, this Blouse isn't just fashioned from soft silks and emblazoned with tasteful multi-coloured paisley, but is more dead-eyed synth pop stained by betrayal, regret and shattered dreams; and what sounds like several decades buried under a provincial discothèque "Somewhere oop North". A freshly tailored début this may be, but Blouse feels familiar, fitted, but ice cold to the touch. It's dreamy, British indie pop cut from vintage cloth ('78 to '91) but reflected by a future generation gazing back inquisitively through a thrift-store kaleidoscopic prism. It looks like indie synth-pop, feels like indie synth-pop but seems dusty, faded, torn.

"Firestarter" (no, not that one) marks the first pawprint on the catwalk; all swirly, shoegazy haziness beefed-up with low-slung Gothic bassline and cryptic situationist musings. "Let's forget about the ceiling / it's just made of stone", offers singer Charlie Hilton, whose forlorn fairy vocals weave a compelling, little girl lost narrative throughout. Like the whole record, it's fiendishly danceable in a smoky "Tuesday Nights' Paint It Black; The Electro Goth & Alternative Disco - Cider Half-Price All Nite"- stylee. The driving "Time Travel" - a futurist felling of The Cure's "A Forest" – picks up the pace just as the pills kick in, "Aah, aah, I was in the future yesterday but it looked nothing like this". Perfect for striking your best Debbie Harry poses. All resplendent in a black plastic binbag dress, wraparound shades, fingerless pastel gloves and nonchalantly shuffling like Frankenstein's monster on a conveyor belt. Somewhere, Andy Warhol says "Wow".

There's a potent, cinematic quality to Blouse. The night-terror rumble of "They Always Fly Away" is particularly gripping. The prowling bass, flickering neon 'n' flapping blackbirds; the beat echoing like gunshots in the night; the graveyard ambience and the swelling, foghorn groan circling the wagons, creeping closer, darker, closer. It conjures some of the leftfield pop experimentation of Broadcast with Hilton's innocent vocal cast perilously at odds with the downbeat musical menace. Elsewhere the doleful "Controller" shivers like grey skies, empty streets and the neverending northern rain. It could have been born from that spooky abandoned warehouse in the "Love Will Tear Us Apart" video. "We could go somewhere / And be different / We could learn to love the controller". This is a tragic-romantic record and despite the perennial frost, Blouse's heart stays true and devoted. "I want to see you save me / Put your hand on my knee" Charlie woo's during the slight, punchy "White" channelling The Glass Menagerie's housebound heroine Laura Wingfield.

But claw away the dirt and the black fingernails and there's a poptastic heart beating beneath this Blouse. The epic, wonky analogue synth waves that wash across "Videotapes" resonate with the suburban dreams of the Human League or Soft Cell. The crushed, pining ache of the eternally adolescent bedsit bard that drives all the finest pop, "What would it be like to see you again?". In another life the pretty nostalgic, wistful twinkle of "Roses" could've been sung by Kylie Minogue. Albeit perhaps not in the same distant, dazey "Who drank all my Night Nurse?" drawl.

It's "Into Black", though, that gets the rosette and the hearty handshake. A future outsider's musical forcefield, f'sure. Hilton the lonesome dove, tragico romantico and miles from home, forever slow dancing in the dark. Like a separated-at-birth sibling of You Say Party's! "Laura Palmer's Prom", it's all broken tiaras and smeared mascara. "I want to watch you fade into black", she mourns. It's the 'comfort in feeling sad' bottled and beckons "Walk this way" like a lighthouse through a sea of darkness. The fader "Fountain In Rewind" is similarly stellar. A colossal bassdrum loop worthy of "Radio Gaga", some 'fresh-outta-electro-shock-therapy' ramblings ("I dive into my eyes / I'm like a fountain / But in rewind"), a talky-bit 'en Français' (Valhalla!) and a thousand disenfranchised car crash hearts punch the air and storm the palace. Escape to victory, you beautiful dreamers!

If there's a flaw in the design of Blouse, it's that sometimes it can feel too disconnected, too frosty. It possesses a relentless thousand-yard-stare and it's all-devouring, melancholic sighing, "May cause slight drowsiness" for some. So no "Driving or operating heavy machinery", please, folks. Minor imperfections aside, there's much delicious darkness here. Where there's light it shines twice as bright. That Blouse can instantly fashion such elegantly artful dream pop but prefer to drag it by its coattails through puddles and mud is admirably mischievous, too. Even in a golden age of luxurious, arch pop-noir the hypnotically captivating Blouse definitely deserves your attention. Given time - and a few more moves - the 'not-frilly-actually' Blouse may yet pose a real threat to this glorious nation's youth. Billy Bob, keep that engine running!






'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.