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Spotlight on: Paper Television by The Blow

Cover of Paper Television by The Blow The Blow, Paper Television

Previously, the "band" known as The Blow was merely one person and her friends. Khaela Maricich recorded two albums under that name (Bonus Album and The Concussive Caress). An earlier album under the name Get the Hell Out of the Way of the Volcano, Everyday Examples of Humans Facing Straight into the Blow, was recently rereleased under the Blow name. (I can understand why she would want to shorten that moniker -- there's probably a law against shouting it in a crowded theatre.)

In 2004, Khaela added Jona Bechtolt (YACHT) to the band's permanent lineup. Paper Television is only their second recording together (following the limited edition EP Poor Aim: Love Songs) and they've already created a pop masterpiece.

The idea behind Paper Television is fascinating in itself, as stated by the album's liner notes: "In response to these dark times, nationally and internationally, we spent a good part of our time making a pop record." A noble effort, I'd say, from the looks (and definitely from the sound) of it.

Paper Television isn't your average mindless electronic pop album. The mind is in full effect here, which makes these songs hang out in your head long after the disc has stopped spinning. "Pile of Gold" (which is available for download on the K Records site) starts things off by using economics as a metaphor for the struggle between men and women over the latter's goods and services: "All the girls are sitting on a pile of gold, all the girls -- and the boys, you know, they want it." Further advice is given on "fair trade" and avoiding high tariffs, all wrapped in a peppy beat that would certainly have me paying attention in class.

Did the bell ring? English class is next as, on "Parentheses," an embrace is compared to everyone's favorite rounded punctuation marks. From the first listen, this glossy song was my favorite -- likely due to my working professionally as a proofreader -- and while other highlights have introduced themselves throughout subsequent listens, "Parentheses" remains at the top of my list.

"The Big U" finds the singer "a little bit afraid of your relationship with the universe." That's some tough competition, but Khaela seems willing to compromise and be "let in on your threesome." The funky "The Long List of Girls" is a treat, especially for the guy who is the focus of the titular series of "girls who love the shit out of you." Marching drums enhance the strong feeling of one who is afraid to get involved with someone who, upon targeting someone's heart, "all you ever seem to do is break it." "Bonjour Jeune Fille" proves that you don't have to understand a foreign language to recognize juicy electropop goodness. Sung half in French and half in English, with approximately the same meaning across the board, it could even educate you in the process.

The songs on Paper Television follow a discernible trend, with just a few exceptions, from happier, peppier ditties to more melancholy, regretful songs. None could be called truly sad, but the later songs (on what once would have been called side two) offer more complex ranges of emotion. They're all eminently danceable, however, and if you don't feel like being affected by their lyrical content, you certainly don't have to.

The slow groove of "Babay (Eat A Critter, Feel Its Wrath)" -- certainly the most inscrutably titled track on Paper Television -- is a perfect musical accompaniment to the singer's trip through her love's gastrointestinal tract. (All the way through, too.) And then the next song is "Eat Your Heart Up" -- looks like some retribution is on the menu.

"Pardon Me" has to be the sexiest song since The Concussive Caress's opener, "How Naked Are We Gonna Get?" -- but it's more subtle this time around. Khaela, with her sweet, sexy, suede voice accompanied by a forceful beat, calls her lover on the carpet after a particularly steamy lovemaking session:

Pardon me, but wasn't that your heart
That I felt, on the bed, in the bed, in between the sheets?
I might have been confused
By all the sweat (there was a lot of sweat) and I could be mistaken.
Sounds like some deeper communication is in their future. In the meantime, "Fists Up" enriches its eminently danceable groove with a Star Wars reference and the surprising revelation that "I don't want to come to the point of this song because the point of this song would have to be so long."

The album's closer, "True Affection," is, at this writing, my second favorite song off Paper Television (it and "Pardon Me" tend to spar for runner-up status). It culminates everything that came before in a smoothly finger-snapping testament to a relationship that went sour despite the best efforts of its participants: "Just because it's real doesn't mean it's going to work." It ends with an eternal failed-relationship truth expressed in paradox (the form the most important truths often take), making it all the more regrettable:

True affection floats.
True affection sinks like a stone.
I never felt so close.
I never felt so all alone.
Leaving us to ponder the nature of love and all that surrounds it. If you're not interested in pondering at the current moment, however, just start the disc over again. It's only half an hour long, so listening through again won't take too much of your time -- and look what you gain in return. I've listened to Paper Television at least a dozen times through (with selected repeats of favorite songs) and not only have I not even begun to tire of it, but I love it even more now than I did when I was first introduced to its highly accessible pop craftsmanship.

Paper Television belongs in the collection of every pop music fan. After all, how many pop musicians reference Jules Verne when talking about incompatibility ("I was out of your league, and you were 20,000 underneath the sea")? At a time when it didn't seem possible, The Blow have really outdone themselves this time around.

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