Blond:Ish ‘Welcome To The Present’ (Kompakt)

Seasoned tech-house duo spring a surprise on their long overdue debut album

Since their formation seven years ago, Canadian duo Blond:ish have dropped six EPs and a ton of singles, but astonishingly no full-length album. Instead, Anstascia D’Elene Corniere and Vivie-Ann Bakos have drip-fed fans on sporadic, sensual techno releases. Past EPs (see ‘Lovers In Limbo’ and ‘Wunderkammer’) have largely followed the sound of their German-based label, the acclaimed Kompakt.

Surprisingly, Blond:ish’s debut album sees them escape the dancefloor as they slip off to an entirely different kind of party, one with blacked-out windows, rogue mattresses and a TV looping trippy videos. ‘Welcome To The Present’ delves into spiritual and psychedelic realms and rifles through traditional instruments, world electronica and obscure spoken word along the way, in an attempt to elevate us far beyond the club environment. The duo’s staple techno beats even take a back seat. Indeed, the album is four tracks old before it even shows any hint of a familiar 4/4.

Opener ‘Shy Grass’ starts with soft guitar strains and echoing children’s laughter, crashing waves and inaudible conversations intersecting a smooth trip hop beat, before plateauing at that good old chilled 90s rhythm. The samples and synths seem to get more random and at a little short of seven minutes, there are only so many squeaky doors (“recorded in Tulum, Mexico”) you can take before losing interest. Follow-up track ‘Los Pensamientos’ is just three minute long, but even so, a man whispering in Spanish over new age sounds fails to recapture any lost attention.

But that’s not to dismiss the foreign influences of the album. Mexican doors aside, the pair’s “physical and spiritual adventures” around the world enlighten some parts of the album. ‘Nada Brahma’ is a prime example, paying homage to a classic Indian theory – that the universe was created from the energy of sound. A relaxed early-hours beat instills pleasant nothingness, before culminating in a soundscape of soft water noises, ominous piano trills and discordant layering. ‘Moonvalley’ follows this world music-inspired success. Eastern instrumentation meets a tech-house beat and results in a hypnotic, slow-burning rhythm. The track has an urgency that could do with featuring on numbers like ‘Myein Caravan’ and ‘Jupiter & Jaguar’, which just fade into the background and not the way downtempo electro is supposed to.

The album’s finale, ‘It Starts Now’, is an apt conclusion. Philosopher Alan Watts speaks over an ambient instrumental, musing about taking responsibility and looking to the future. It’s thought-provoking on a theoretical level, but it also reminds us that Blond:ish have taken a huge step away from their Kompakt-dependent sound. Yes, ‘Welcome To The Present’ may be overambitious and unfocused at points, but Blond:ish showcase the roots of some interesting ideas. It’s a mixed bag, but a promising entry into the world of full-length albums.

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