With their eponymous debut album, Icky Blossoms may not be blasting through the established musical terrain to craft new territory, but that’s beside the point. What matters is how goddamn good they are at what they do. From feral rave-ups (“Burn Rubber”) to sultry grooves (“Cycles”), the group’s avant-garde stew of moody electronica, dance, primal punk and pure bubblegum pop casts one hell of an addictive musical infection.
Musically, Birthday Party-style no wave, Joy Division, maybe a dash of Tricky, and Omaha peer the Faint all factor into the Omaha trio’s unholy syncretism, with their lyrical checkpoints of drugs, animal lust, forked-tongue temptation, and brutal death linking them to the Velvet Underground’s netherworld. For whatever reason, the group they keep bringing to mind is seminal American punk band X. Imagine if that outfit leaped from the ‘80s to the modern day and started toying around with synthesizers and drum machines in some basement workspace and there you have Icky Blossoms (member Nik Fackler even has a little John Doe thing going on with his lead vocal turn on the ramshackle “I Am”). Nocturnal they certainly are, their songs sounding equally at home in a sweat-stained rock club or in a night of solitude, spent in your room or cruising the streets. Producer and TV on the Radio jack-of-all-trades David Sitek can be credited with lending his special touch to create this atmosphere (his sinewy bass on “Deep in the Throes” is also worthy of a nod).
Though Fackler and Derek Pressnall are credited with having written nine of the record’s ten songs without her, it is Sarah Bohling’s vocals that are the linchpin keeping the structure together. Following in the tradition of Exene Cervenka, Shirley Manson, and Alison Mosshart, Bohling is Salome with a microphone, just as seductive and predatory. Her husky voice drips sex and grime in equal measure, her persona giving one the impression that her idea of flirting would be to kick you in the balls. And yet, she displays quite a range, from robotic disconnectedness to emotionally engaging. Of course, she is able to shine due to the deft work of Fackler and Pressnall at fashioning such vivid soundscapes for her to experiment with.
The record begins with “Heat Lightning”, itself opening with a pulsating synthesized bass throb, quickly joined by an evocative and winding guitar line. The tenderest moment of the album, Bohling is likewise at her most vulnerable in contrast to the confidence she displays elsewhere, waxing nostalgic over a former love that flashed and dissipated like the subject of its title. “I know nothing will last forever / I like thought of being together”, she sings near the end, the upbeat drum patterns offsetting her mournful yearning. The driving rhythm veritably conjures humidity rising from the track, electrical discharges flaring in the ominous skyline.
It seems a mission of the Blossoms to appeal to the basest carnality and emotional cues, reveling in the debauchery that can only arise in the darkest hours. This motif is most direct in “Sex to the Devil”, a sleazy bit of sacrilege. Deadpan vocals recite a litany of free association sins and descriptions of a seedy urban underbelly, the minimalist dance beat and looped synth melody rendering the piece a trance, maybe something you’d hear in a club managed by David Lynch. “Catty queens and neon kings / Drugs, sex, rock ‘n’ roll / The devil came, the devil came, the devil came / And saved my soul”, the group sings in unison like some disembodied specters.
The Blossoms’ post-modernism reigns on lead single “Babes”. Is it a tongue-in-cheek feminist criticism of women who play into being sex objects, or a genuine homage to flaunting sex appeal? Either way, it’s the catchiest number here. An obsessive mania pervades it, the narrator possibly a literal killer targeting the nightclubbing women who make themselves so available as prey. “With four inch heels, air brushed nails / At the club, a killer babe / Back and forth on the stage / Couldn’t keep my eyes off / That killer babe”, Bohling sings, the neon lighting her black widow sexuality. Oddly, the music has a trace of church organ to it smashing against some industrial foreboding, lending it an apocalyptic feel.
The album reaches its zenith in the simultaneously affecting and unnerving “Stark Weather”, an ode of loving devotion as related through the story of Nebraskan spree killer Charles Starkweather and his 14-year-old girlfriend Caril Fugate. “I would kill that man down at the gas station for you / I would kill your parents and your baby sister, too”, the Blossoms sing in harmony, reciting historical fact to the minor keyboard drone and thunderclapping drums. A romanticized song about a killer is creepy in itself, but what really amps this one is it sells you on the Romeo and Juliet aspect of Starkweather and Fugate’s relationship without shying away from the grizzly details. Come the distortion-soaked chorus, you’re fighting the urge not to sing along: “So you go get your gun now, baby / We can steal the car now, baby / Let’s get runnin’ out into the / Night is young”.
Praise for the record aside, there are some blemishes. Not every song fires on all cylinders. The most obvious faltering is the back-to-back placement of the two weakest songs, “Burn Rubber” and aptly titled “Temporary Freakout”. They’re not bad songs by any means, but it’s clear on repeated listenings that they don’t live up to the benchmark set by the rest. Wrapping the album is the coming down ennui of “Perfect Vision”, which runs too long at six and a half minutes. One could make a form-or-function argument here, though, as the lethargy in the song must be intentional, the refrain summing it up: “Nothing to do / But get high in the afternoon”.
As the album has but ten songs and clocks in at 42 minutes, it is the perfect length for engrossing the listener without being redundant. And again, Icky Blossoms may not be the first to champion this brand of art house experimentalism, but they do it with such aplomb that you wish they were.