The Concussive Caress, or, Casey Caught Her Mom Singing Along with the Vacuum
othing is the only reason not to fuck everything up.” With that single statement, uttered above the grinding hum of electronics on “Nothing,” The Blow’s Khaela Maricich lets us in on the creative aesthetic behind her second album for K Records, The Concussive Caress. Like so many other indie artists, she has become discontented with form. Shreds of songs ache with the need to numb themselves, and find solace in a simple break, an early end, or a schizophrenic mid-song dip into shapelessness. Unfortunately, the shifts are too jarring, and the ideas formed in their wake leave you wishing they had been allowed to build to their natural end. Song fragments and electronic tatters abound on this album, and at the moments you put out your hand to their allure, Maricich snaps them back with a smirk.
“How Naked Are We Going to Get?” starts the album with the sort of tantalizing sang froid that used to make Liz Phair so appealing. With its gurgling bass line and the Siren-humming undereneath Maricich’s hushed singing, the tone is intimate and dim. It’s one of only a few songs left to fulfill its own promise, and you can’t help but remember it at album’s end as evidence of The Blow’s shiftless talent.
Breaking from this torch song lure, “What Tom Said About Girls” rides a human beat box and throbbing bass notes to uncertain ends. The melody swirls around this simple accompaniment as Maricich faux raps, but it seems embryonic, like it’s only half-thawed and still too solid for consumption. Cutting away to fragments of a conversation remembered, the music halts and leaves you too close to her recollections to understand her reasoning.
Often though, the album lacks even the nascent forms of songs or melodies. “Chase Dream” is a disconcerting splice of wood spanking against metal, an unattended child barking his own irritable noise into his parents’ absence. “Come On Pauline” features looping cello strokes under miscellaneous, off-note percussion. Beneath what sounds like a cracked industrial fan and dire electronic tones, “Gravity” lingers with sinister intent for three minutes without building any momentum, and sizzles out into the next track, inert and forgettable.
Ultimately, this seems like the mocking disfigurement of an artist faint with the constraints of creating something compelling. It’s far easier to crash the party, to force-feed the guests your own creation of obliteration in art, to claim willful abandonment as your muse. Failing to build a singular tone or narrative concept into its misanthropic craving for deconstruction, The Concussive Caress fails to gather the attention that all first missteps need on the way to forming molds of their own that will one day, too, need deconstructing. Unfortunately, the album’s self-awareness defaces the emergence of a remarkable beauty, and what remains is the conscious falsehood of a girl who carves her hair into uneven shards to prove to herself she doesn’t care what you think.