MUSIC: Pip Blom, ‘Boat’

The Dutch brother/sister combo Pip Blom craft high-energy, pop-punk anthems, and their debut album feels like a best of, with joyful harmonies over an insistent beat. It’s Rough Trade’s album of the month, and it’s a beautifully summery offering that’s well worth a listen.

Album cover featuring a graphic of two skyscrapers.
The summery palms of the album cover capture the album’s core mood.

Album opener ‘Daddy Issues’ sets out its stall, with shouted lyrics of ‘What you wanna do?’ ‘What you gonna do?’ over a drum track, almost as if the band has begun with its own demo, before the rest of the band joins in. The track is immediately followed by ‘Don’t Make It Difficult’. The spare sound, simple three-piece band, and singer Pip Blom’s breathy vocals, combined in choruses with brother Tender’s backing vocals, offer a fairly fixed template for the album, with slight variations on a basic verse-chorus-verse-chorus-middle-8-chorus structure all working to serve the harmonies and melodic guitar pop. ‘Daddy Issues’ stands out for allowing Tender to take lead vocal in the middle 8 and placing the two voices in juxtaposition to one another, while ‘Don’t Make It Difficult’ offers a distortion-filled, heavier foundation in its chorus.

After the blistering two opening tracks, ‘Say It’ takes a more languid turn, with Pip’s vocals dreamier as she imagines wanting to help someone who won’t say what’s going on, and the chorus’s repeated ‘Say it, say it, say it to me’ over minor chords captures some slightly more conflicted feelings. The minor mood continues in ‘Tired’, anchored to a more weary two-chord verse that mirrors the lyrics, especially as the chorus repeats ‘I feel so tired’, as if the emotional effort of the previous song had left the band unable to come up with something more complex; again, though the dream-state of the repetition and simple chords creates an effective mood.

‘Bedhead’ turns down the volume for a much lighter guitar sound from Tender, and a meandering structure that moves through several distinct phases that push Pip’s vocals higher in the mix and allow the rhythm section of Darek Mercks and Gini Cameron to shine a little, particularly in a lovely little outro that strips out the guitar. ‘Tinfoil’ marks the most experimental sound on the album, anchored around a chugging guitar riff and half-time drum beat, with a growling bass intervening irregularly, getting louder and quieter in the mix. The song is one of the longer on the album, rumbling along for almost five minutes and letting its clashing melodies linger.

‘Ruby’ is an obvious single, built around a relatively monotonous hook, but giving Pip’s vocals a foundation, and that’s enough. The chorus is two chords, but the harmonies are beautifully pitched, and after the second chorus the band breaks it down into a middle 8 that pits Pip and Tender’s lyrics against a jangly guitar accompanied by the bass wandering high, and despite the energy of the chorus there’s a peacefulness to the song that brings a smile to the face. ‘Set of Stairs’ is punkier, calling to mind the Pixies, with a muddier riff and more spoken lyrics with a sarcastic inflection, before a middle 8 that offers an accelerating crescendo that comes back into the last chorus. It’s a structure that works well repeatedly through the record, and its predictability is clean and fun.

‘Sorry’ is a perfect companion to ‘Say It’, with the singer this time the one who needs some help, and she spares the addressee nothing with a chorus that says emphatically ‘It’s not alright, you know you can’t deny / You find it hard to be there by my side’. As ever, the middle 8 is the most melodically exciting section, here with the bass sounding out while the guitar takes a more metallic direction, before the final chorus ends suddenly. Then ‘Ana’ closes the album, beginning gently with vocal and guitar. Here, the music really is a vehicle for a lovely voice, the album’s repeated concerns with trying to understand and communicate sounding out plaintively before the rest of the band kicks in with a heavily distorted, whirring sound. It’s a cracking debut album that revels in its straightforwardness.

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