Regarding the title track from Blood and Glass’ new album Punk Shadows, singer and lyricist Lisa Moore observed that, “Punk is not a hair style. It is not a fashion statement. Punk is the expression of inner freedom.” It’s a bold statement that feels especially relevant now, more than 40 years after punk’s initial heyday. While Punk Shadows may not evoke the well-worn clichés of mohawks and safety pins, it does offer listeners a bracing dose of originality in the form of nine wildly eclectic tunes.
The album opens with the moody, Kate Bush-flavored “Block of Ice,” a song based on a thought-provoking metaphor: the cold heart of a lover. “I wanted to keep it close for days / but it melted all away.” This frigidity is contrasted with “every heart beat” that “makes too much heat.” Moore’s breathy falsetto blends with heavy bass guitar and drums, crystalline keyboards and processed vocals to create a song of austere beauty.
From this first track, one might assume that Blood and Glass makes mostly melancholy art-pop, but “Illusions” quickly proves that theory wrong. It’s as breezy as “Block of Ice” is bleak. It also shows Moore’s capricious vocal range, as she adopts a style more akin to that of Bjork or Cyndi Lauper. Masterful cello from Annie Gadbois adds a pensive touch to a song that takes a devil-may-care approach to the apocalypse: “The machines are all blown to confetti / I’m ready.” There’s a humorous vocal outtake at the end which dissolves into spontaneous laughter, revealing that Blood and Glass might be serious artists, but they don’t take themselves too seriously.
Title aside, “Nowheresville” betrays the influence of late-period Japan, with what sounds like fretless bass and King Crimson-style synths. Booming drums are offset by plucked violins and some impressive multi-tracked vocals in which Moore pulls out all the stops. Lyrically, the song addresses a road trip through failed relationships of the past, when touching bruises seems like the only way to heal: “And I’m going to all the places that broke me / Now.”
There is more dazzling imagery in “Submarine,” which mixes metaphors (tears, oceans, alcohol and chlorinated water) to marvelous success. Piano, cello and echoey synths elicit the sensation of swimming, while Moore’s emotive singing creates a mood of pure heartbreak. A wave of intense keyboards helps the listener “sink” to the bottom, as the song reveals its deepest secrets. “You’re high up in your ship now / you sail across the ocean / I’ll be at the bottom / suffocating in emotions.” It’s a stunning achievement, compressing an entire album’s worth of ideas and feelings into one song.
“Punk Shadows” is a blast of fresh air, sounding uncannily like something that would have been a massive college radio hit in the summer of 1985 (think of a more avant-garde Bananarama), only to cross over onto mainstream radio. It’s ridiculously catchy, especially for a song that serves as an elegy to the end of punk, which many claim ended with the birth of hardcore in the mid-1980s. “I cried, I cried / When he gave up his own advice.” Still, the song ends on a note of hopefulness: “Always forever punk shadows / There in the dark.”
Chest-thumping drums and eerie keyboards open the theatrical “Whiskey,” one of the most seductive songs about alcoholism I’ve ever heard. It’s certainly got one of the hookiest choruses to earworm its way into my head so far this year: “Like a whisper hot inside your throat / I can feel it flow / Like a secret everybody knows / Let the river flow.” Moore’s vocal prowess is truly arresting, switching from Lene Lovich-style yelping to falsetto with ease. The song even takes a break in the middle for a German drinking song, complete with the raucous bar noises of drunken patrons. The continued refrain of “de-na-na-na-nial” is pure brilliance.
“Hop the Fence” takes the premise of “Submarine” (being physically trapped by a relationship) and transposes it to someone literally caged and attempting to escape. Unexpectedly, it does so by utilizing a brass section and marching band percussion, reminiscent of songs like The Cure’s “The Love Cats” and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Peep Show.” Moore yelps “I’m hanging on an electrical wire / the fence that you built me,” sounding like a lover not only spurned but also gaslighted.
The most experimental track on an album that consistently tries to push the pop music envelope as far as it will go is the spoken word “Chlorine Dreams.” It continues the concept of “Punk Shadows” through the story of a fictional former punk named “Billy Doll.” The lyrics are bona fide poetry, utilizing words with multiple meanings and the imagery of fascism to get the point across (“And out came the suits / And out came the uniforms”), one in which “the truth behind you and all of it” is that “every dream / was tainted with chlorine.”
“Chlorine Dreams” transforms into the album’s final track, “Swimming Pool,” the last of Punk Shadows’ many uses of water metaphors. Here, the pool is a way to escape and avoid reality, even when the weather changes and the protagonist ages: “As the deep end / becomes my new best friend.” There’s a fake-out ending, and then the song resumes with Moore laconically singing, “Breast stroke, back stroke, kicking it back, heart stroke.” It’s a gloomy ending that feels like a question mark.
Punk Shadows is only Blood and Glass’s second album, but it affirms the self-assured presence of a band that is bursting with clever ideas and talent, not to mention songs that are undeniably addictive. If punk, as Moore suggests, is the expression of “inner freedom,” then Blood and Glass is definitely punk.
Punk Shadows was released on March 24 by Simone Records and can be purchased on iTunes.
Less Lee Moore (@popshifter) is the Editor in Chief of Popshifter, which she founded in 2007. She also writes for Rue Morgue, Everything Is Scary, Biff Bam Pop and Modern Horrors.