We first wrote about Michelle Blades back in December, describing how her single ‘Kiss Me on the Mouth’ “occup[ies] the grey area between upbeat and melancholy, pop underpinned by a high-strung tension.” Taken from her new album, Visitor, the song proved to be the perfect introduction to Blades’ sound. “The result is something strange and compelling,” we wrote of the multi-instrumentalist, “the facade of innocence hiding something altogether more weird or dangerous […] presenting a simmering intrigue in place of any sure answers.”
The varied and undefinable style is perhaps a product of Michelle Blades’ nomadic life. Born in Panama to a Mexican mother, Blades escaped the regime of Manuel Noriega by moving to Florida. From there she found the underground music scene during a spell in Arizona, and finally relocated to France to fully-realise her potential as a musician. Her family were Central American pioneers of salsa, and music is in the Blades genes—her grandmother a Cuban pianist and singer, her father a producer and composer, and her uncle Rubén Blades a huge force in the contemporary scene.
Visitor feels like a culmination of this personal and familial history, a genre-bending ode to where she has come from. Situated within a 70s-style aesthetic of protest and political struggle, the record finds Blades both confident and fierce, as though all of the faces and places that have inspired the record are standing with her, shoulder to shoulder in solidarity. With help from Victor Peynichou (bass, guitar), Alexandre Bourit (guitar), Marius Duflot (synth, piano, vibraphone, percussion), Pierre-Louis Vizioz (drums), Edouard Pons (piano, vibraphone), Daniel Hart (violin) and Manfred Kovacic (saxophone), Blades has created an experimental album that aims to explore not just musical conventions but those of language and culture too, making for a sound that is radical without sacrificing complexity.
Nowhere is this clearer than opening track, ‘Politic!’, a techicoloured art-rock track that brings together psychedelic peculiarities and Patti Smith’s nonchalant poetry, with notes of krautrock and even ska threaded through the sound too. The track has a pervasive energy, the peppy bounce of its tempo a vehicle through which Blades delivers her message, the sound as irrepressible as the people it describes.
This refusal to settle in any one genre or style is the true radical spirit of Michelle Blades. Many songs on the album could be said to creep close to a ‘commercial’ accessibility, though with constant invention and a knack for the strange, Blades always subverts conventions. Which is how one minute ‘Behind the Black’ can offer a languid shake, shimmering psych mirages playing across its surface, and the next ‘Piri Piri’ can supply a playful brand of pop cast in tropical hues. Some, like ‘Literally’, strip things back to acoustic guitar and swirling ambient tones, while others bloom in kaleidoscopic intricacy. The frenetic spaghetti western post-punk of ‘Dr Pysch’ juxtaposes almost completely with the sultry slow-motion of ‘Acid On The Hillside’, though both are united by a theatrical energy that matches their hallucinatory groove.
The willingness to experiment essentially serves to stoke the curiosity of the listener, pushing them to dig down into even the more straightforward tracks. As we described of the aforementioned ‘Kiss Me on the Mouth’, there appears a kind of duality, where the surface of the lyrics is stalked by some strange second (or third, fourth etc.) meaning. Blades’ ability to draw our attention to the unseen without sacrificing its cryptic allure is one of the true strengths of the record—something perfected on the captivating single, ‘Ring’.
Lookin’ at the ring on yr finger
A look too long could cause a disaster
We’re no longer kids
everything is weird
everyone’s got a job to talk about
And I don’t learn from my mistakes
Visitor is out now on Midnight Special Records and you can get it from the Michelle Blades Bandcamp page.
Album artwork By Lou Benesch