December 07, 2004

The Blow "Poor Aim:Love Songs"

The best moments of the Blow’s first official full-length, 2003’s The Concussive Caress, were the result of a shy indie-pop girl using mainstream R&B as a template through which she could explore the nuances of her sexuality. The contrast between Khaela Maricich’s pretty but unassertive voice and the funky drum programming that constantly threatened to overwhelm it gave the songs a tension that made Caress a more rewarding listen than the average K record. Caress was based on a musical that Maricich had been performing at her live shows. Because of such, the album was littered with mid-song tangents and between-song interludes that could’ve confused listeners who had never seen a Blow performance. Maricich’s new EP Poor Aim: Love Songs is an improvement over her previous album because, with the exception of the brief, jarring “Let’s Play Boys Chase Girls,” each song works well completely on its own.

At least half of the songs on Poor Aim are sparer and funkier than anything Khaela’s done before. The backing track of opener “Hey Boy” coasts on retro girl-group harmonies, featherweight guitars, and a tuneful synthesized bass line. The handclaps and rapid-fire drum breaks of “The Love I Crave” are pure 1980s roller-rink groove, with computerized vocal cutups that would make Prefuse 73’s Scott Herren proud. Last but not least, Maricich’s heavy breathing and vocal syncopation on “Hock It” is just as sensual as any of the R&B divas that she takes inspiration from. Her vocals have become comparatively more assertive since Caress; she rides the beats now, whereas before she occasionally sounded as if she could barely keep up with them. Other songs on Poor Aim borrow more from the sterile, dinkier synth-pop of the Postal Service (most notably “Knowing the Things That I Know”).

As always, the Blow’s songs are sung from the point of view of a woman who’s still young enough to analyze the minutiae of every fleeting crush, but too mature to treat unrequited love like it’s the end of the world. The lyrics to “Hey Boy” read like a LiveJournal entry barely shoehorned into verse/chorus format, as Khaela ponders every possible explanation for why a certain boy didn’t call her: “Susan said maybe you were scared/Shelley says there is always a reason/and Chris said you’re probably surrounded by girls/and I’m just not one of them that you’re needing.” On “The Sky Opened Wide Like the Tide,” Khaela spends all night on the town, searching in vain for her friends. She mentions specific Olympia landmarks in the lyrics, but the wanderlust she sings about still feels universal, a trick that only the best semi-autobiographical pop can pull off.

EP closer “Come on Petunia” begins with a twee recasting of the Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” but then becomes a spoken-word chronicle of the seedier underbelly of unrequited love: an obsessed woman who considers cutting the man she wants into pieces, guys competing with each other to see who can get laid first, etc. That dark horse aside, Poor Aim: Love Songs is as sweet and sexy as indie-pop gets nowadays. I am certain that Khaela Maricich’s best and sultriest work is ahead of her. What else would you expect from a woman whose website is called “the Touch Me Feeling”?

--Sean Padilla

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