With their earlier work—particularly their 2011 run of EPs on RVNG Intl.—NYC duo Sam Haar and Zach Steinman built an ethereal sound that adopted the propulsive motion of techno without its strict rhythms or structures. Their bumpy textures lent them something of an outsider dance tag, but a disc full of remixes last year pulled them closer to the inner circle. The duo’s new album, Swisher, further erodes that boundary.
What makes Blondes different from conventional techno producers in the first place? For one, their tracks feel like they could go anywhere over the course of their runtime. Each unfolds gradually, with a smooth build that’s about adding layers on top of layers rather than moving from one bar to the next. Their array of synthesizers and drum machines also feels removed from the artificial perfection of computers. Drums are arguably the most prominent feature on Swisher. Blondes’ older material felt so huge partly because the drums were always eclipsed by the sound blooming all around them. On Swisher, they’re up front and almost violent in comparison, punching through tracks like “Bora Bora” with no room for delicacy. That track has the same wanderlust as all their work, but it’s their most dance-friendly to date, shuddering with metallic textures and scraping noises in place of chords.
Blondes have a way of making their dense compositions sound inviting, and their arrangements are more meticulous than they might first appear. “Wire” washes over its techno foundation with waves of accordion-like leads, but nothing’s ever drowned out; the immensity is immersive rather than imposing. Their most promising moment comes at the end with the moonlit chords of “Elise.” Half ’90s house revival and half Dozzy daydreaming, it takes a bright sample and lets it bleed into the background. That feeling of organic growth and decay is, definitively, what makes Blondes unique—everything is in its right place, but instead of processed-to-death perfection, it just feels natural.