The Blondes – Swedish Heat

There was a time when a band like the Blondes, being based out in L.A., would have been snatched up by some major label (this was in the days before that was synonymous with multinational) on the kind of cult rep they seem to have, from a perspective of 3000 miles.

Instead their two albums first came out on the obscure German label Middle Class Pig (though there was a mini-LP, which makes up the bulk of their debut album, released by the even more obscure L.A. indie Ship, under their pre-“cease & desist” name of Eagle), and now this abridged melding of the two (almost half-and-half) via a new L.A. indie.

Considering what you hear, if you deign to tune into a commercial, music radio station these days or even MTV and siblings (though about the latter I don’t know for sure because I refuse to give in to the robber barons of cable, but I’ll gladly take my forthcoming Viacom dividends), I guess even Christgau’s “semi-popular music” phrase is stretching things when it comes to good old fashion Pop-Rock.

The sound? Well, it’s a throw back to periods of the Seventies: part latter days of the decade, first full blossom of Power-Pop — the kind of thing Jordan Oakes and his Yellow Pills Mafia used to write extensive treaties on — and part slightly earlier, Chinn & Chapman teen anthems. They even covered Mud’s Dyna-Mite for the Blockbuster: A Glitter Glam Experience tribute album and have on this album an homage to Detroit ex-pat Suzi Quatro.

You younger kids can try to remember Redd Kross’s Third Eye if it helps. And almost as prominent as the pop vocals, harmonies and ear-candy melodies of front men Adam Seigel and Bill Dusha is their use of analog synth whirls and vectors ripped right out of Desolation Boulevard — they’re not overbearing and in a weird way are very comforting.

The more I listen to this record, the more I want to. It would probably be great to blast it in the car as you head down the shore. But I have neither a car or much interest in the shore since all the pinball arcades got wiped out by some modified neutron bomb. I will say that after innumerable spins I still can’t make out what the songs are about other than the odd phrase or two: due to being slightly undermixed and some minor though muffling reverb.

Anyway, Vesna Velovic, whatever that is, is the first great tune. A 2’37” minute rotating Pop-Rock chune that rides the guitars up and down and a kind of call-and-response interplay between the lead and backing vocals. The synths make just a short appearance in the break and outro. The chorus brings to mind the youthful days of the Rubinoos. (Jon Rubin also seems to be a presence in So Far Away.)

Teenage Foxes seems right out of some precursor to those John Hughes films. It starts with just vocal and strumming electric guitar, then after about 15 seconds everyone piles in and we’re off over hill and dale in a glittering Trans-Am. As we enter the chorus they throw in miniscule snatch of 10cc bass vocal. Then after what could pass as a false ending they time shift into a languid, liquid, psych melange for almost 30 seconds before the green flag flashes for the home stretch.

California Sunshine has a long intro which builds up from one then two chunky guitars, to a martial snare drum, then the bass and synths together before it shifts to all light and jangly and resembles some of Teenage Fanclubs’ finest re-imagining of California Pop-Rock.

But just to give it a slight twist a very George Harrisonesque guitar slices through at points — that also reappears briefly in Just One Of The Guys. High-Five Suicide is a formidable rocker that is elevated by the ganged, harmony falsettos that drive the chorus.

The ending number, Je Deviendrais, a lovely, haunting, mid-tempo ballad, is sung in echo laden French by guest vocalist, and one-time keyboard player, Autumn Dewilde.

Oh, and do the math: 13 tunes, thirty-sex minutes; none of that digital inflation.

[Released by Teenacide 2003]

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