If one criticism could be made when Blouse broke out with its self-titled debut in 2011, it was that the Portland group was overly reverent of its ’80s synth-pop inspirations. On Blouse, band members Charlie Hilton, Patrick Adams, and Jacob Portrait (who also plays in Unknown Mortal Orchestra, another successful local export) displayed obvious talent, but the record felt at times simultaneously backward-looking and of the moment.
It’s a relief, then, to hear the lead single off of Blouse’s new LP, out this month on Captured Tracks. With its grungy, ringing guitar-and-bass intro, “No Shelter” announces within notes that Imperium is not Blouse—and that the synth-smitten band we met nearly two years ago is not the rock group with whom we reacquaint ourselves now.
In fact, the Blouse we discover in this album is defined by absence. Gone is the synthesizer, replaced by guitar for a rock-oriented sound. Gone, too, is the so-2011 hazy production. Most conspicuously missing, though, is the tentativeness that marked the songwriting on Blouse’s first effort.
That’s not to say Imperium’s Blouse is unrecognizable. Hilton, for example, continues to draw on timeless themes of love and longing in her lyrics. “There is no shelter / from this kind of cold,” she sings on “No Shelter.” “Give me your body / I need a thing to hold.” The band continues to look to the past for inspiration—just in different places. Over its crush on New Wave, Blouse is now carrying a torch for the alt-rock of the ’80s and ’90s.
Here, as on the band’s debut, Blouse’s not-so-secret weapon is Portrait’s eminently capable production. From the sultry ambience on standout “A Feeling Like This” to the abraded effect on the title track’s guitar breakdown, his deft, light touch makes the record a richly textured listen.
It’s Portrait’s studio work, Hilton’s songwriting, and the whole band’s musicianship together, though, that make this disc a success. Imperium means, in Latin, “power to command,” and indeed, the album shows a group of musicians with a much firmer grasp of their craft.
Listen to a playlist of our favorite Blouse tracks. If you don't have Spotify go here to sign up for a free account.