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The Blow - The Concussive Caress

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Artist: The Blow

Album: The Concussive Caress

Label: K

Review date: Oct. 23, 2003

Finally, finally, the release of the much-anticipated debut album from K Records staple Khaela Maricich. While you may have heard Maricich’s voice floating in the background of Phil Evrum’s Microphones crew, last year’s Bonus Album EP showed she has a vision that’s all her own. Right at home with the lo-fi, quirky projects that K has been putting out for years, the EP showcased a smattering of simple vocals and elementary keyboard accompaniment, with incongruous tracks mashed up against one another like a child’s collage. Even in spite of salacious hints in tracks like “Some Chocolates” and “Jet Ski Accidents” and Maricich’s obviously learned wordplays, the fun remained at least overtly simple. Innocent.

Now The Concussive Caress: “How naked? How naked? How naked are we going to get?” It’s racy, more than suggestive, maybe even bad. But still, it’s innocent. The overall tenor of this album comes through on this first cut: playfully suggestive, innocently sexual, mordantly clever. It’s an ode to the seekers of one night stands, a music experience of the touch that arouses you when you least expect it. “Will there be room in their bath / For how terribly white you become / When you finally arrive” – We know what she’s talking about, and smile at the clever allusion. Then she confronts us with the unambiguous “Will you remember the way to her heart through her thighs?” Ouch. The Concussive Caress is, in a way, about sexuality, as it opens up desires you didn’t know you had, but it isn’t cold or condescending. It’s as much about perception, appearance, the taste and feel of life and people. About sensitivity. Every sensation is fresh, every touch is electric, every caress is an experiment.

The album seems to have a concept or story to it, but the chronicle may not be apparent to those who haven’t seen Maricich perform these tracks live. The Blow is more than an artist or a name; as Maricich writes on her website, “The Blow came from the mouth of a small child, or from a man who spends a lot of time out on sidewalks.” She creates an entire world, with characters and experiences and feelings that mirror those found in our world, but have their own sensations and perceptions. The Concussive Caress draws many of its songs from The Blow’s live solo performance piece “Blue Sky v. Night Sky”, which is the story of a girl named Amy. It goes something like this, for those who want to know:

Amy is a girl who stops to notice things more than other people in her life; she sees the meaning we hide behind what we say; she sees the shape of things. She thinks life may be a photo negative of what we really see; how do we know the spaces aren’t as important as the objects? She can’t talk to anyone about this, because no one understands her. Some people around her seem to have things figured out (a boyfriend/cousin/boy from work justifying lascivious pleasures to her amazement in “What Tom Said About Girls”, the disturbing motherly admonishment of “Keep away from love, it’ll fuck you up” supposedly recorded from Amy’s mother and played in reverse), but Amy sees things differently. Then one summer, Amy goes to summer camp and meets another girl named Pauline, a kindred spirit who sees the “spaces in between the stars”. The two become inseparable, and at the end of the summer promise to write one another. Amy sends a cassette tape with a message on it for Pauline (“Come on Pauline”) in order to confess her profound need for Pauline to be near her, to which Pauline finally responds (“Gravity”).

From the opening “How Naked Are We Going to Get?”, the album flits and flickers across filler bits, until a well-executed but unimpressive “A Night Full of Open Eyes” that reads as the diary of a lonely man who has to pay for pleasure, something that falls short of Maricich’s often ingenious observation of human desire. Other scraps surface and dip below again, including the strange description of a town’s telephone wires in the first part of “Sweetheart”. It’s downright disappointing, actually, that so much of the movement on the album is filler, since Maririch’s cleverness runs deeper than what’s present here. Essentially we wander until the anthemic “What Tom Said about the Girls”, which when performed live comes complete with cutout drawings of bikini models dancing in a line. Maricich digs up a boom-shaka-laka beat that begs gyration, and overlays not-so-subtle metaphors about cars and sex (“I’ve got a rod that’s hot, I drive it”) told from a guy’s perspective. It’s a justification, really, in Maricich’s best tongue-in-cheek; this guy needs to “keep the girls burning, cause their hot circles give [him] some hope”. Sad, pathetic. Sick. Personal.

“Come on Pauline” is the most chilling and fully spectacular piece on the album. With the jumping cello bow outlining sticks clacking the beat, Maricich conjures up electric imagery. She mourns her first kindred spirit lost in Pauline, who “cruises the streets” “undressing city blocks with [her] eyes”, and raises our hackles with orgasmic accents in the chorus, repeating painfully her naïve insistence that someone so close could never betray her. Again, again she cries “I know that you see this, Pauline…I know the things that I know, I know they’re true”. Torturous. The track develops into a long “I” that she holds while continuing to wistfully confess her desire for the kindred soul from the idylls of summer. The song runs the range of emotions, and captures each perfectly and poignantly.

“Gravity” can be seen as the center [sic] of one of the album’s recurring themes, in the song’s allusion to Amy’s need to be fondled. To “hold [her] body to the ground when all the air gets in [her] head” and that “reach up with a hot hand / From the center of the planet, holding [her]”, preventing the night from coming inside her body. Also we have the perverse pun of magnetic attraction to the “black hole” seen in “Night Full of Open Eyes” and “What Tom Said About Girls” and the jerky “Where I Love You” (where?: “in the hole down below”).

Maricich’s sometimes groan-inducing wordplay is never just plain silly or clever; in “Night Full of Open Eyes”, we get “Nothing is the only reason not to go fucking around” which then resorts to the old Odyssean pun in the chorus, “I want to hold Nothing by the hand / Stare into the eyes of One who understands”, and in “Sweetheart” she remembers all the pet names a young man called her, and then matter-of-factly ends “And then he never called me again.” It is dismissive, cutesy, yet we never get the sense that Maricich is slighting the desire and emotion she indulges in, instead only crafting these moments to portray the quirky and sometimes cheesy way her characters deal with them. How we deal with them.

This album is highly conscious and self-conscious, lending keen observation to the world of love and desire in a naively forthright way, one that’s sure to titillate and make you fidget. But could her point come across so clearly in any other way?

By Joel Calahan

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