New Bloods - "Oh, Deadly Nightshade!" (The Secret Life)
Many fine bands execute fresh, entertaining versions of older styles. A few bands sound wholly new. The rest stitch together bits of genres they like in the hope that the resultant collage will surpass the sum of its ripped-off parts. This latter subspecies of band often falls victim to wouldn’t-it-be-cool-itis, an affliction wherein a quirk stands in originality’s stead: Wouldn’t it be cool if your band only sang about children’s literature? Wouldn’t it be rad if you added a novelty, like a vibraphone or a shitload of reverb or a girl?
New Bloods sound like a lot of other bands. Bassist Cassia Gammill plays funk-via-E.S.G. lines, their sung-shouted vocals trace back to any number of late ’70s girl post-punk records, and Adee Roberson’s drums seem reminiscent of Kat Ex’s brilliant world-influenced work in the Ex. Like inferior bands, New Bloods have a twist: they have a violinist, and no guitar. And indeed, listening to The Secret Life one thinks of the Raincoats, and even recalls the unfortunate “violin crust” movement that afflicted punk in the ’90s (cf. Submission Hold). Osa Atoe plays the violin in a wholly original way, though. She textures the songs, playing riffs and solos and chords, both plucking and bowing. Gammill’s well-executed bass and Roberson’s rock-solid drums serve as counterpoints to the violin’s complexity, and the multiple vocal lines fill in the space that might otherwise be taken up by guitar. It’s striking to hear such equilibrium among all members of a band, between every element that comprises a song. More unique than novel, this violin-core is really not exactly like any punk that’s been made before.
New Bloods also set themselves apart from their peers via their energetic earnestness. In 2K8, “earnest” seems shorthand for beaded-flannel-forest man-feelings singer bullshit. New Bloods, however, consist of three queer women, two of whom are African-American, and they have more urgent things to be honest about. “Show me a place please / where a woman can breathe,” they sing in “The Sea is Alive In Me,” and they don’t mean it in a wussy way but in an honest, angry, we-are-trying-to-build-a-new-culture-here-and-it’s-hard, kind of way. They reference their “ancestral memory,” they sing lines in Yoruba and cite the Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat, and the “secret life” of the title seems as much a reference to a kind of exclusive underground as an emotional state of being. The cover art emphasizes this mystery: Are the people in the album sleeve’s collaged relatives, heroes, or random thrift-store photographs?
The pleasant sensation of hearing a band that comes out of nowhere (well, out of the close-knit D.I.Y. punk Pacific Northwest scene) and tries - without straining - to do something new allows one to overlook The Secret Life’s few awkward moments, where the vocals clash against the instrumentation. Moreover, with no song passing the 3-minute mark, these flaws speed by. The record left me with little desire to pick apart mistakes and an itch to see how New Bloods will mature.