John Blonde (I have no idea if that’s his real name or not) emailed me out of the blue sometime in 2007 to say that I’d cost him a lot of money and time, or something, because he’d read Imperfect Sound Forever and been to get his band’s album mastered again as a result, with more attention paid to space and levels and such, and could he post me a copy of it, because I might as well hear it. So I said yes, of course, and he did, and I listened to it, quite a lot of times, and it was very good.
I know practically nothing about House of Blondes: I know they were a three-piece from New York but little else; John didn’t include a press release and I’ve pretty much never seen anything else written about them anywhere. So I have no idea of influences or contemporaries or context, whether they’re part of a scene or what music they listen to or what their songs might be about or anything else. It’s weird, especially in the internet age, to listen to music almost completely in a vacuum; we’re so saturated with information and data if we want to be that experiencing (and especially judging) something without any information (or, at least, nothing that means anything to you) is almost a scary prospect. Maybe I’m unusual in this, but I tend to research things before I buy them; the transaction of cash for music in the hope of emotional investment is a big deal to me, and I like the safety net of context and expectation that reading about something provides, even if I’m often willing to take a punt on a record completely unheard.
Luckily I wasn’t in a position of having to review House of Blondes, so I was under no obligation to form an opinion or think of anything clever to write about it, and I could just listen. So I did: not intently and with a notepad or laptop to hand, not indulgently like with a long-anticipated new release or sudden favourite; slowly, infrequently, curiously. It was, for that time in my life, an unusual and satisfying way to get to know a record.
Six years on almost, I feel like I have a bit of a handle on this strange little record. One might, from a distance, call it ‘indie pop’; certainly there are guitars and pianos and bass and drums and Moog and yearning vocals. Oh so yearning. Intimate and keening and revealing of secrets, the lyrics like half-recalled conversations, confessions, oblique unveilings of childhood trauma and catholic guilt and, possibly, recurringly, mental illness. But I don’t know for sure; sans context and character I could be interpreting them completely wrong.
I’d hope I’m not interpreting the music wrong, though; at least not the beatifically lovely, drifting piano coda of “It’s a Blast”; the repetitive, twitchy propulsion of “The Excitement”; the swelling, intense musical narrative of “Hugo Magnolia”; the huge gaping space at the centre of “Long Room Delay”; or the uncanny twist of nostalgia for something you’ve never experienced of “You Are Mission Control”. The strange thing is that I don’t really know what I think of these songs, which are delicate and lovely and also slightly unsettling, but I can still listen to them years later and find new contours and enjoy them. Even now, writing this, I’m not judging them. Why would I?
I gather House of Blondes released another LP, Clean Cuts in 2012, and that it sounds like Brian Eno producing OMD, or something, but that it’s also, essentially, a brand new band with only John Blonde in common. I’d be intrigued to hear it.