The Blow’s latest album, Brand New Abyss, opens with a haunting, tetchy pop song filled with unnerving electronic flourishes and off-kilter waves of sonic manipulations.
Normally, the track would fit neatly within the group’s oeuvre, which has made a career out of gorgeous, icy art-pop creations. However, this particular offering is a cover of “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” the sun-dappled hit from those gauzy Southern California rockers The Eagles, a band that could not be more diametrically opposed from The Blow.
“I kind of had that one sitting around for a while,” says Khaela Maricich, a founding member who now performs alongside her girlfriend, Melissa Dyne. “Once I keyed into the lyrics, I realized how good they were, especially when a woman was singing them. I thought it would be great if we didn’t focus on the chorus and we didn’t make it peaceful sounding.”
That contrarian instinct has been the defining sentiment of The Blow, which has carved out an admirable indie career by opting to swim upstream from prevailing cultural currents. The group’s breakthrough album, Paper Television — a shimmering, electro-pop masterpiece — arrived in 2006, a time when whelping, expansive, and discordant noise-rock was all the rage. After laying low for seven years, the group returned with their self-titled album, a recording infused with meticulously crafted live music samples, belying the craze for easily accessible digital beats.
And now, for its latest offering, The Blow has unveiled a starkly minimalist, avant-garde sound — again countermanding the flavors of the moment, which trend toward blown-out productions.
“Everything in pop is loud and glossy and in-your-face,” says Dyne, who, along with being a talented visual artist, is primarily responsible for engineering and producing the Blow’s albums. “We felt that, instead of trying to yell above the noise, we could have more of an impact if we whispered.”
The Blow have never been interested in events outside their own world. The songs on the new album were simply the results of the duo being true to themselves and themselves only, said Dyne, whose group will co-headline a show at the Rickshaw Stop with punk-rocker EMA on Oct. 30.
Recorded in the group’s New York apartment amid massive neighboring construction projects and in off-season resorts in the hinterlands, Brand New Abyss is a claustrophobic, ominous affair, reflecting the unease of those unorthodox locales.
Songs that find a groove among effervescent pop foundations are quickly disrupted by knifing, icy synth incursions. The album refuses to let you find sure footing — moments of beauty intermingle with revelations of dread, leaving you reeling with drunk, woozy feelings. Maricich likened the album to the sound of a single tear falling down one’s cheek. It is an exhilarating, challenging, and ultimately rewarding listen.
While any smart, creative album begs for political analysis, Maricich said Brand New Abyss was written over a 4-year period, with much of the work predating our current Asshole-in-Chief. Formerly a balladeer of the broken heart, Maricich has shifted her lyrical focus in recent years, a move that is not coincidental, given her happy, love-filled relationship with Dyne. Instead of depicting failed attempts at romance, Maricich tackles the struggles of finding oneself in a city and a culture that can be unforgiving and impersonal.
“It can be corny writing about feminism or late-stage capitalism, or how I feel like I’m jammed into the ghetto of the internet,” says Maricich. “But once those things started coming out of my mouth, it became really exciting. It felt so satisfying to articulate these concepts and ideas that were in the studio of my head.”
Brand New Abyss is an emphatic indication that there is room in the world for a band like the Blow — a fearless group unbound by strictures of format or expectation. Over the years, the Blow has evolved from Maricich’s lo-fi bedroom recording project to a showy electroclash band to a collaborative pop effort. Each step from the group defies the previous one and offers no precedent for the next. This unpredictability will define the Blow so as long as Maricich and Dyne continue to do what feels true, as determined by their tight-knit committee of two.
“Music today is this giant, massive, fucking highway,” said Maricich. “And we’re just trying to find a roadside restaurant that treats us nice.”
The Blow, with EMA, Monday, Oct. 30, 8 p.m., at Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St. $15; rickshawstop.com
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