The artwork for Blonds’ debut LP might recall images of Sin City, grayscale with smears of red. Sure, it’s easily several steps removed from that intense level of stylization, but it fits the picture alright. What’s truly in common is a penchant for making things big. Everything is one slick broad stroke. This may imply a lack of subtlety, but Blonds bring us clever flairs and smart maneuvers vocally and instrumentally. The Bad Ones may sound like it ought to be part of some hip theatre piece, but it works itself into that group of big indie sounds that Nicole Atkins or Florence and The Machine play to.
There is a standard here that seems to make itself at home in each track. Of course, the small to large movement is a natural part of modern music, but it’s particularly distinct in The Bad Ones. The pieces begin inside of blues or film western tones - we almost believe that this time it’s going to stay simple and quiet. For the most part it never does. What we get from here are the big theatrical parts of Blonds tracks. They are by no means over the top and exaggerated, but vocalist Jordy Asher doesn’t leave us much in the way of simple honesty. Her vocals are big, clean, and proper. The group is at its best amidst these choruses that sound utterly huge but are based around simple thumping drums and an otherwise quaint blues sound.
It’s the simplicity around these dramatic sounds that turns The Bad Ones into something guiltily catchy. The LP’s second track, Amen, is certainly the standout. It opens with lo-fi chiming and percussion like far off footsteps, and it all sounds like it could be part of a spy movie. “I’ve never seen Paris but found you at last,” Asher sings, and it’s one her strongest lines. For the most part, her lyrics are pseudo-meaningful, a bit too on point to have further depth, but the occasional moment like on Amen sound honest enough for the entire song. Mr. E (which I’m assuming is meant to be a clever writing of “mystery”) has Asher singing, “So Baby swim with me, I really want to mean something tonight.” It’s functional enough to be a little depressing. However, the scope of these songs prohibits her from opening up. Mr. E has a cool dark bassline, and it’s eeriness mixed with seedy interstate bar guitar riffs (along with the water imagery) makes it reminiscent of The Killers’ big and bombastic Bones.
Blonds provide an interesting mix of sounds. The blues and western ideas switch or blend together. We get wonderful echoes in the room. On Run it sounds like some swarm of insects is coming menacingly form the distance. Even the guitar on Run works as pseudo-menacing. Nothing here is real, it’s all larger than life. Falling gives us a smart interplay between Asher and male vocals that croon in to answer her. It’s scripted and sharp, but like the rest of The Bad Ones, it all only works to a point. If you’re not wooed by grand gestures, Blonds aren’t quite going to hit the spot for you. Tracks like Amen or the chorus of almost any song here can easily catch a listener for a time, but as a stacked album, the sound is dulled. They don’t own the theatricality. Rather, it’s present, and it’s their style.
There’s clearly talent in Blonds. This debut LP gives us some smart songwriting. The production is stellar, and there’s wonderfully close attention paid to how the sounds are made and heard. It shows an odd eye toward subtlety that the band doesn’t otherwise seem interested in embracing. There’s a certain nod or wink that Blonds must be giving in acknowledgement of all this, but it isn’t quite enough to sell the whole package. What they’re doing has an audience, likely a big one too, but it won’t be enough to break through.