ove: pop music’s richest and most deserving subject. Everyone wants it, everyone thinks they need it, and no one gets sick of hearing about it, especially when it’s neatly packaged as a three-minute pop ditty. In the pop arena, we speak amour’s name with casual reverence, promoting its supposed ubiquity through constant rotation on the radio, as if it were simply a given. And that’s part of the fantasy: in a hyper-capitalist culture, love’s still free and readily available for consumption. The universal enigma that both bewilders and enchants can be yours—all that is required is that you listen.
Sadly, the majority of current pop music offers us cheap wares: an imitation of the real thing. Why is it that the power of love is often watered down by the Top 40 set into puddles of saccharine drivel? Or when it leans towards the sexual spectrum, the pop provocateurs sensationalize the philosophy of the boudoir? Just as we search for that special someone(s), so we search for that happy medium in pop music: where love is presented as complex and elusive instead of only inciting manic desperation, precious swooning, or an insatiable desire to get jiggy with it.
The Blow’s Paper Television neither exalts the sacred nor worships the profane. Rather, the Portland electropop duo deals with the “L word” on their own offbeat terms while giving us new reasons to wiggle with delight.
The Blow is really just vocalist, Khaela Maricich. She mostly performed solo until Jona Bechtolt, a cyber savvy musician with his own solo project, Y.A.C.H.T., accompanied her on this album contributing the stammering snares and tinkling keyboard effects, among other random techno noise. The twosome incorporate myriad genres: post-punk, no-wave, new wave, and confessional balladry among others. Yet, The Blow’s sound is so spare, it’s almost naïve in its composition.
Maricich charms with a refreshingly ordinary voice that finds its strength in its own limits. Over Bechtolt’s tympanic beats, she sings like a proud amateur, sometimes straining a bit to keep up with the frantic pace he’s set. Bechtolt creates an infectious blend of hard-hitting rhythms that both slink about seductively and stutter with pyrotechnic violence, but are stripped bare of any musical ornamentation. Bechtolt’s minimalist production encourages a strong focus on what’s Maricich singing about. Listening to Paper Television is like reading a bright young woman’s journal filled with thoughts she knows are far too knowing and worldly to share with just anybody. Fortunately, Maricich makes us privy to her private reflections.
One would be tempted to call Maricich the quintessential everygirl but then she delivers a line like, “If there’s something in the deli aisle that makes you cry, of course I’ll put my arm around you and I’ll walk you outside” and you realize she’s not quite like anyone. And yet she is. She’s pensive and wistful, but also grounded and guarded. She’s interested in love but not overeager. Like the subject of which she’s so fond, she’s a perfect contradiction.
“A Pile of Gold” examines the commodification of the female body and how male desire operates in the sexualized marketplace. Maricich makes herself clear without being obnoxiously erudite. She links love to capitalism like a true Marxist, and yet when that unrelenting bass drops again and again insisting on getting down, we feel no shame in shaking our own moneymakers. She’s just tellin’ it like it is.
The album has its share of unexceptional moments. Often, the raw simplicity of the beats leaves something wanting. At times, one desires something more grandiose to match the emotive content. The Blow could easily be categorized as another electro-something band if not for Maricich’s informal and intimate delivery and engaging lyrics. If either is somewhat middling, the song gets lost in the primitive rhythm and fails to resonate.
The indelible treasure, though, is single “Parentheses,” a quirky tale of love in the supermarket. It’s moving, adorable, and an altogether realistic depiction of what love is truly about. It isn’t about senseless courting or mindless “porking,” it’s about, among other things, understanding each other’s fragility and embracing it when and wherever. Moreover, the eclectic fusion of reggae/synthpop/doowop instantly captivates, and most importantly: this is the song that contains that heartbreaking “deli aisle” lyric.
Transforming the prosaic into the profound, The Blow reinvents love for the masses without a hint of avant-garde condescension. Paper Television is an honest, imaginative, and beguiling pop record that pleasantly surprises with its unassuming spin on good, old-fashioned love songs.
Reviewed by: Jillian Crowther
Reviewed on: 2007-01-12