Two years ago Portland-based wave pop band BLOUSE surprised a few insiders and fans of good old fashioned Post-Punk/Wave sound with their fresh and surprising sounding self-titled debut album. A record that sounded a bit like it was a long lost longplayer from 1983. Especially the imperfection of certain songs, the distinctive edgy and basic sound gave this little album its special note. Now, two years later, BLOUSE are about to repeat the magic and also add new aspects to the mixture – Imperium is the name of the sophomore album which is about to get released these days via label Captured Tracks.
Imperium is also the name of the record’s opening track that takes us directly back to the point where the debut left us. Forcing drum beats, vibrating basslines, playful guitars and the dreamy voice of lead singer Charlie Hilton. Typical new wave ingredients, packed into not much more than three minutes. Eyesight follows this lush recipe, presents the band quite dreamy. 1000 Years on the other side seems clearer and points with extensive SMITHS references. Hiltons love declaration gets almost hypnotic. While BLOUSE tend to repeat the concept of the debut in terms of their love for the imperfection and a certain lo-fi spirit there are a few changes. The sound wants to be more focussed, more precise. The band left the drum computers and a lot of synthesizers away. Real drum work and noisy, shoegazing wave guitars took the place, giving the whole album a certain garage appeal.
Although the intention might have been good, Imperium in general is not as good as the band’s debut. It feels a bit like the different elements won’t work as good together as they did on the first album. First of it, there’s Hilton’s voice. It’s a quite special one, always sounding a bit out of tune, very hypnotic and partly even uninterested. Her voice might not be quite strong, she always sounds a bit reluctant. There’s a melancholic undertone in it, that much is for sure. But still, there’s a general lack of energy in these songs. Songs like In A Glass or Capote sound quite unmotivated. They might wanna sound psychedelic but in the end they almost seems a bit boring. There is a lack of urgency, especially when you compare it with the bands debut album. There are good moments on it, no doubt. No Shelter is such a track where the combination of the post-punk-like guitars and Hilton’s voice works very good. But it’s far too less for a whole album.
The problem of Imperium might not only be the record itself but its predecessor. The debut of BLOUSE was way more exciting, offered more ideas, better songs and a certain sense of urgency and – yes – a lovely unforced pop appeal. The new one has far too less of all these aspects. A few faster tracks like Arrested would have been a wise choice for this album. There are far too many building lots in the musical universe of BLOUSE. Imperium is not an entirely bad album, it’s a nice release for all fans of dreamy lo-fi sounds. A solid record, but not the one that could have been a follow-up to the promising debut. Let’s cross fingers for the next one.