Lost in the ethereal sound of Blouse

Modern-day escapism
By MICHAEL MAROTTA  |  May 1, 2012

FAST TRACKED "We had no idea we'd be approached by record labels after putting songs on Bandcamp," says Blouse's Charlie Hilton. "It's very surreal, and sweet, and magical." 

Music is often meant to soothe, to relax the mind, and — at times of greatest need — to provide an escape from our drab daily grind. So there is a constant struggle between reality and the fantasy world embodied in the music of Portland, Oregon, trio Blouse. Ethereal and moody, it's aural escapism into a noisy, blackened-glass netherworld of emotions, dreams, and reflections on childhood; the kind of mental daydream people often drift into while sitting in their work cubicle, or idling in traffic on the Mass Pike, or just pushing the shopping cart through the supermarket without really paying attention to the endless product placement around them. After every three or four minutes, with the conclusion of each song, Blouse's fantasy world fades, and our lives focus back into bitter reality.

I start thinking about this, and the beige newsroom walls around me, as I dial Blouse's guitarist/frontwoman Charlie Hilton. I'm prepared to get maybe 20 impersonal minutes by telephone to cover the basics: the trio's enchanting 2011 debut record off Captured Tracks, their first-ever tour, their show at Brighton Music Hall tonight. But what I really want to do is access Hilton's ability to transport listeners out of their boring lives and into the band's music and lyrics, envisioning Hilton as a sleek, smirking conductor-in-black watching zombified passengers file into a dream-pop spaceship that's going to mentally launch us all away from our 9-to-5 ennui.

"I tend to get philosophical, and my lyrics always tend to be — I don't know how to put it, exactly — a yearning for a sense of fulfillment that can't really be achieved," she says from the Blouse tour van as she and bandmates Patrick Adams and Jacob Portrait travel to a gig at the Parish in Austin. "I tend to think a lot of about things like the human mind, death — things beyond our basic understanding. I think those things are really beautiful, but people tend to think they're dark."

It feels weird discussing natural beauty versus the saturnine themes that arise in Hilton's lyrical compositions while she's in a moving van on Interstate 35 in Texas. Instead, we should be at the band's North Portland headquarters, a 6000-square-foot warehouse that doubles as their DIY recording studio, lighting a joint and connecting the musical dots on dusty old New Wave records. Maybe we'd talk about the haunting, sticky-tar chamber-pop of "Into Black," or the zooming synths and subject of childhood nostalgia of "Videotapes" while we flip between early B-Movie, the Cure, and Berlin 12-inches. Discussing Blouse's music is better suited for lounging on plush couches at 3 am, not a staticky mobile phone conversation at 3 pm. In the end, reality always wins.

Blouse's beginning itself, however, reads like fantasy. Los Angeles native Hilton met Adams in a Portland art school in the summer of 2010, and soon hooked up with producer and Unknown Mortal Orchestra bassist Portrait (Dandy Warhols, Starfucker). They posted two home-recorded demos online, and by March Captured Tracks released their first 7-inch, "Into Black." By May, Sub Pop issued the "Shadow" single. "We had no idea we'd be approached by record labels after putting songs on Bandcamp," Hilton says. "It's very surreal, and sweet, and magical. We felt confident in the songs themselves, even though we didn't have time to mold our sound."

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