Album Of The Week: The Blow Brand New Abyss
There are weeks when the “Album Of The Week” idea seems entirely ridiculous and insufficient, when there are so many great records flooding in that it seems sad and unfair to highlight just one. This is one of those weeks. There is a whole lot of fucking great music coming out right now. Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Luciferean Towers is an overwhelming surge of power, a soaring and crashing light in the darkness. Wolves In The Throne Room’s Thrice Woven is the darkness itself, a symphony of dread that just keeps revealing new depths. Chelsea Wolfe’s Hiss Spun takes the dark majesty of goth and the primal glurge of doom metal and builds a whole new idea of gnarly beauty out of them. The Horrors’ V is triumphant, incandescent synth-rock that just feels like it’s flying. We’ve also got great new records from Moses Sumney and Metz and the Clientele and a whole lot of other people, as well. It’s a lot. It’s too much. It’s great. I wish I had time to write about five or six of them. But from where I’m sitting, the best of this week’s avalanche of new records is probably also the smallest and most personal of them. It’s the one that explores big ideas in tiny ways, that feels like a quiet conversation instead of a universe exploding.
More than a decade ago, Khaela Maricich sang, “If something in the deli aisle makes you cry /
Of course I’ll put my arm around you and I’ll walk you outside,” and it sounded like the sweetest thing one person could say to another person. That song, “Parentheses,” was about the soft ecstasy of human connection, and the one time I saw Maricich sing it in person, she was all by herself. Back in 2006, when the Blow released their DIY classic Paper Television, the Blow was Maricich and Jona Bechtolt, who hadn’t yet gone off to do YACHT full-time. But Bechtolt didn’t tour with the Blow, so when they performed, it was just Maricich herself, a deeply self-conscious person dancing around an empty stage and singing songs about deep interpersonal communication. Eventually, Bechtolt left, and the Blow became, for a while, a rarely active art-pop project. Then Maricich moved to New York, and Melissa Dyne joined the group. They released a way-underrated sophomore album four years ago, and now they’re back with an even better one that’s mostly about the moment that comes long after you walk out of the supermarket, the moment that the connection dies.
On the first song from the new Brand New Abyss, in that same blithe and conversational voice that she once used to talk about the deli aisle, Maricich sings, “I found out a long time ago what a woman can do to your soul / But oh, she can’t take you anywhere / That you don’t already know how to go.” The words aren’t hers. Jack Tempchin wrote them, and they come from “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” a laid-back country-rocker that the Eagles released in 1972. There are only eight songs on Brand New Abyss, and two of them are covers. The other is of “The Greatest Love Of All,” the barnstorming Whitney Houston monster-ballad from 1985. Maricich doesn’t sing that one like a barnstorming monster-ballad, of course, just like she doesn’t sing “Peaceful Easy Feeling” as a laid-back country rocker. She sings them the same way she sings all her songs — conspiratorial half-whispers over sparse, longing, barely there synthpop. But both songs are about finding the strength to be on your own. And really, that’s what the whole album is about.
“What happened to the love that I aimed in your direction?” Maricich asks on “Dark Cold Magic.” “Does it hang around your head like a cloud? / Does it dissipate with the hot winds that blow out of your mouth?” It’s the sort of image that she can conjure like nobody else. It’s fantastical, specific, tactile, and it lingers in your head as a visual metaphor for what she’s singing about. Over and over on Brand New Abyss, she finds ways to just as precisely outline emotional detachment, whether it comes from a long-dead relationship or from the simple fact of being alive in 2017. Here, for instance, is a memory of an old flame: “You and I, yeah, we rarely agree / But we both love drugs / Remember when your drug was me?” Maricich half-speaks these things like they’re no big deal, like they’re just passing thoughts, when they’re clearly some deeply intense feelings. The songs themselves are small and efficient hook-machines. But they find sharp and literary ways to dig into deep cracks. And they dig even deeper when Maricich moves on from the subject of romance.
“The Woman You Want Her To Be,” for instance, is a song about a factory-created perfect woman, a corrupt ideal that could never exist in the real world. It’s a nervous and jittery track, and Maricich’s narration — it’s more narration than singing — goes into ironic ad-campaign mode, finding these clever little ways to talk about the ways we dehumanize women: “Think of her as a mass / Not one ass, but a mass of asses / Plastic, magic, passive, perfectible / Limitless, a living receptacle.” And a song later, on “Get Up,” Maricich does something similar while talking about no less a subject than the question of what it’s like to live in the world today. This could get heavy and pretentious so quickly, but Maricich doesn’t have heaviness or pretension in her. Instead, she’s as smart and funny as she is bleak: “It’s cool, kiddos / We all get to live inside the internet ghetto / And it’s great, there’s so much space / It looks just like real life, it’s just all made of light.”
These things — interpersonal distance, objectification, the detachment that we now bring to our everyday lives — are tough and scary subjects. But one remarkable thing about Brand New Abyss is how pleasant the whole thing is. As a vocalist, Maricich is an enormously engaging and charismatic presence, and it’s fun to hear her flip these ideas around in her head. Both Maricich and Dyne play the various different electronic doohickeys on the album, and while the sound is still plenty bare and minimal, these tracks are also warmer and catchier than they were when Bechtolt was in the band. Brand New Abyss isn’t some sweeping epic, and it might not strike you as an immediate masterpiece, the way Luciferian Towers and Thrice Woven might. But if you let this it, this is an album that can creep under your skin. It overflows with ideas and hooks and empathy, and even on a week as packed as this one, it stands out.
The self-released Brand New Abyss is out 9/22; you can order it here. Stream it below.
Other albums of note out this week:
• The Killers’ slick return Wonderful Wonderful.
• Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s crushing, masterful Luciferian Towers.
• Wolves In The Throne Room’s fiery, monumental Thrice Woven.
• Chelsea Wolfe’s beautifully foggy doom-goth experiment Hiss Spun.
• Moses Sumney’s searching, personal art-soul debut Aromanticism.
• The Horrors’ grand, spacey V.
• Phoebe Bridges’ tough and graceful debut Stranger In The Alps.
• Cut Copy’s gleaming dance-popper Haikus From Zero.
• Metz’s raw post-hardcore ripper Strange Peace.
• The Clientele’s warm, confident indie-popper Music For The Age Of Miracles.
• Emo veterans the Movielife’s long-awaited reunion Cities In Search Of A Heart.
• Amadou & Mariam’s buoyant, celebratory La Confusion.
• The Lemon Twigs’ idiosyncratic, psychedelic Brothers Of Destruction.
• Hiss Golden Messenger’s thoughtful folker Hallelujah Anyhow.
• Wand’s psych-rock ripper Plum.
• Deradoorian’s experimental solo LP Eternal Recurrence.
• Prawn’s stripped-down DIY bugout Run.
• Tricky’s raspy, brooding Ununiform.
• Omni’s sharp, crispy indie-popper Multi-Task.
• Fergie’s pop-rap return Double Dutchess.
• Luna’s reunion covers album A Sentimental Education and their new EP A Place Of Greater Safety.
• Rapsody’s incisive, thoughtful rap record Laila’s Wisdom.
• Palberta side project Lily And Horn Horse’s nostalgic, thoughtful Next To Me.
• Black Dice member Eric Copeland’s solo album Goofballs.
• Holiday Ghosts’s self-titled garage-pop debut.
• Shout Out Louds’ breezy indie-popper Ease My Mind.
• Stephen Stills and Judy Collins’ collaborative album Everybody Knows.
• Van Morrison’s bluesy covers collection Roll With The Punches.
• Steve Martin And The Steep Canyon Rangers’ bluegrass collection The Long-Awaited Album.
• Fischerspooner’s arty electroclash statement SIR.
• Mastodon’s Cold Dark Place EP.
• Twist’s Benefits EP.