The Long Blondes, Someone to Drive You Home

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

So what, exactly, is the sound of Sheffield? Heaven 17 lit up New Romance with cool blue neon, Pulp excelled in brainy lampoons of the upper crust and the Arctic Monkeys pulled punchlines from pub life and set them to beery, blown-out punk riffs. Is this what's meant by cultural dissonance?

Breathless and brainy girl group punk rock from Sheffield

Add now to that mosaic the Long Blondes, a Sheffield quintet that sounds nothing like the ones that came before them. A giddy mixup of girl group sass and punk rock snarl, the Long Blondes bounce rubber ball basslines across panicked guitars, turning out songs that are both breathless and brainy. The record was produced by Pulp's Steve Mackey, and it's not hard to pick up traces of that band's cultivated disdain in Kate Jackson's plummy alto. "Looks are the first weapon," she coos in "Only Lovers Left Alive," "Charm is the second/ I reckon that she doesn't have much of either." The group is expert at segueing from roughshod verses to big, gilded choruses. "In the Company of Women" starts out dark and stormy and suddenly the clouds part and it turns into a sunny song-and-dance. "Giddy Stratospheres" goes from throbbing dance-punk to somber streetlight serenade. It's like they memorized 900 Girls at Our Best singles, fused together the best parts and swapped out the scalding sociopolitical satire for romantic foibles and raw longing. "I've painted myself into a social corner," Jackson laments in "You Could Have Both." "Well, that's what happens when you listen to/ Saint Scott Walker /On headphones/ On the bus." A bitter truism, indeed.

What's most winning about Someone is its take-no-prisoners recklessness. Some albums build to a big finish but in this case the whole thing heads for the panic room early, with Jackson howling "Nag! Nag! Nag!" two and a half minutes into the first song. That line, by the way, is a direct quote from a great late-'70s single by Cabaret Voltaire. Maybe you've heard of them? They're this noisy little industrial band. They're from Sheffield.