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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Blonder Captures the Unpretentious Spirit of ’90s Indie Rock

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Assembled from the remnants of bands with names like Big Butt High School, Hi School, Golf Galaxy and Burger Deal, Blonder doesn’t disguise its sense of humor. The Milwaukee group takes on haphazard ’90s indie-rock in the vein of Boston bands like The Pixies and, more aptly, Swirlies, whose 1993 album Blonder Tongue Audio Baton gave the band its name. The group’s seven-song Bandcamp and CD-R Demo blends those Boston influences with shades of Pavement and My Bloody Valentine, while lyrically expounding on awkward social situations and neuroses that are about as Midwestern as a healthy fear of tornadoes.

Blonder’s members all lead pretty normal day-to-day lives. Frontman Matt Nordness is a nurse; drummer and audio engineer Eric Risser is a mailman; keyboardist and singer Mina Faye is in medical school; bass player Vince Gaa is a teacher; and guitarist James Brickner is an engineer. “It helps make our music not forced,” Brickner said of their outside lives. For them, music is a welcome break from their hectic lives, and that comes across in their demos as well as in their live performances, where singer Matt Nordness will switch up lyrics to already absurd songs to get a rise out of his bandmates.

Throughout Demo’s seven songs set in apartments, alleyways and bars, there are several notable and borderline laugh-out-loud moments. “Skirt” has Nordness singing about spotting a girl at the other end of the bar, “dancin’ with your T-Rex arms / I’ll swing my head to the beat in time with yours.” The music stomps and sways back and forth heavily enough that not imagining a couple dancing like dinosaurs is nearly impossible. 

“PT Love Song” is an endearing love song about phobias and two people trying to keep their shit together in spite of themselves. “I’m in your kitchen making pizza / Pepperoni pizza! / We’re in the alley smoking shorts.” And on the short, percussive “Polka Dot,” the verses are a whirlwind of great poetic nonsense like “Sparkling olive eyes dance in the breeze.” It’s all over in just about two minutes.

The skewed humor and guitar tones are likely to remind listeners of Pavement or other like-minded bands of the era. Some listeners will instantly hear the Pixies in Nordnesses’ and Faye’s harmonizations. What’s likely to catch early indie-rock fans and audio gear junkies by surprise is the group’s utilization of a Craigslist Tascam 388 that sounds like the high end of lo-fi. It captures the group’s sometimes shoegazey, sometimes-straightforward Breeders-style pop nicely. Even for an unmastered recording, there’s a lot of richness and depth, which is especially noticeable compared to many modern digital recordings.

The group is working on a follow up to their demo that’s likely to contain a couple re-recordings of these songs as well as new ones like “Fall Leaves” and “Yellow,” which the band plays at their live performances. For now, though, they’ve released seven tracks that could easily be the soundtrack to a long-awaited Milwaukee springtime. 

Blonder plays the Center Street Free Space Tuesday, April 1, with Strange Relations and Stereo Ghost at 7 p.m. Their demo is streaming at blonder.bandcamp.com.