Blondes plant a seed and watch it grow. Their brand of patient, live-take house begins with the smallest element — a synth chord here, a little bassline there — and evolves, slowly but surely. It’s the same hypnotizing repetition that made The Fields’ From Here We Go Sublime an instant classic, but the 12-inch singles Zach Steinmann and Sam Harr have compiled here for their proper full-length debut are less manic than Alex Wilder’s work, and with their warmly produced keyboards and deep, palpable kicks, they’re more tangible and human. Indeed, Blondes starts off sounding positively communal, the Meredith Monk chant running throughout “Lover” imbuing the insistent 4/4 pulse with a ‘tribal’ vitality. Perhaps Ramona Gonzalez of Nite Jewel puts it best in this choice tweet from January 25: “I would take e to Blondes’ music and dance for hours in a dark room with ppl I didn’t know who partially creeped me out.” Not even the best EDM artists conjure up an image quite like that one.
This is dance music centered about the x-axis, less concerned with where it’s going than the possibilities of movement inherent in the ‘going’ itself. Consequently, it avoids the stagnancy that plagues some of DFA’s lesser work (the interminable “Gold” being the lone exception); even if “Amber” floats along leisurely like a helium balloon, ending only after it’s bobbed out of sight, it maintains some constancy of motion. And it’s this persistently moving quality that is essential to Blondes’ universal listenability, that lends it both enough energy for these seven-minute tracks to never drag on for too long and a distinctly dream-swept atmosphere. If there’s one trademark of Steinmann and Harr’s work, it’s the reverbed synth chords found in nearly every track here; their attack is subdued, and they leave a sonic trail. Curiously, these spaced-out chords most vividly call to mind the opening synths of Fuck Buttons’ monolithic “Space Mountain”; furthermore, the building-block nature of Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power’s work closely resembles the considerably less assaultive stuff being methodically created here. If the four pairs of tracks making up Blondes feel a little bit too easy when all is said and done, it’s because the aesthetic the duo has chosen for their music is more agreeable than visceral, which — despite making these long jammy takes seem polished rather than formless — makes the album a rather lightweight affair.
But although it’s reasonable to attribute these tracks’ ephemerality to the spontaneous nature of their recording, I’m inclined to believe that Blondes adopt their methods of performing and creating because they’re aiming for that precise fleeting sensation — the one that indelibly fuses a primal need for change with a desire to keep hearing more. Which is why the collection of remixes packaged with this album are largely superfluous; too many of them ignore the paradoxical combination of propulsion and unhurried calm. Laurel Halo and Andy Stott turn in the most appealing remixes of the pack; Halo’s penchant for creating stagnant yet absorbing electronic landscapes and Stott’s newly dirt-inflected dub are both agreeable alongside Blondes’ slow sonic gestations. Yet their offerings are also highly predictable, exactly what you’d expect from these two collaborations. And on the reworkings that are actual top-to-bottom reworkings, the key to Blondes’ appeal — that infallible patience, that compulsion to shift — is conspicuously absent. John Roberts vomits all over “Business,” turning the track’s warm groove into a weirdly cloying mishmash of stuttering glitchiness and buzzing electro, while Jeff Witscher, operating under his Rene Hell alias, turns “Amber” into a pretty but faceless wash of synth drones. This relative failure on the part of others to effectively recontextualize Blondes’ sound just proves that, despite their veneer of insubstantiality, these two artists are working pretty damn hard. Music this agreeable and well-produced may not leave the most potent aftertaste, but it still makes for a sweet listen without veering into the saccharine. That’s commendable, and then some.