It's always an intriguing endeavor to discern the influences of an up-and-coming band when delving into their work, and the 2021 debut studio album of New York City-based Blonde Otter is no exception. The band released their self-titled debut album following a four-year string of EPs and singles, and once it crossed our path, we felt compelled to write about it.
Kicking off with the record's standout track, Useful Now, the band perfectly embodies the essence of a robust New York indie act. They blend synth-pop elements reminiscent of bands like Of Montreal and LCD Soundsystem with a more overt and prominent use of guitars, delivering a highly refined and catchy opening single. Useful Now isn't just a good single; it's shockingly good, leaving listeners to ponder why it wasn't one of the biggest indie rock songs of the year. It's questions like these that fuel the excitement of discovering new talents in the music scene, more specifically just going to a local club to see any four-band bill.
Following this impressive opener, the band reiterates the Phoenix-esque muted guitar playing on ...But Craig! This intriguing approach transforms the guitar into a pleasing, melodic percussion instrument. Besides their muted guitar style, the band seemed to build the album completely around the guitar, reminiscent of the early 2000s indie scene, a formula often leading to great outcomes. Space Cadet showcases a different, more graceful side of guitar playing, akin to maybe Wincing the Night Way Shins (Girl Sailor in particular) and of course, Man Overnight implies a strong influence from The Strokes.
Man Overnight might sit as the album's finest deeper-cut, rock tracks. The dueling guitar lines towards the end of the song, the Julian Casablancas-like vocal distortions, and the punchy drums all emphasize the substantial influence of The Strokes on the New York indie scene. To Blonde Otter's credit, they pay homage to The Strokes superbly, building on this influence and infusing their own unique style into a sound revered by many.
The album's tenth track, Expectations, echoes the bright '60s bubblegum pop-rock of bands like The Turtles and The Beach Boys, with a more modern, advanced guitar playing style. This track transitions into the album's closing song, bringing listeners back to the present day. Expectations imply that Blonde Otter has crafted their polished sound by drawing from generations of musical influence, going beyond the more evident similarities with other New York acts.
For an under-the-radar debut indie album, this is about as good as it gets. Blonde Otter manages to stay connected with sounds that have thrived in the past while adding their own unique twists, original songwriting, and of course, their personal style. It's an album that deserves to be revisited repeatedly, with no weaker tracks to be found. By releasing such a strong debut, the band has set a challenge for themselves to surpass this accomplishment on their next release, which we can only hope is just around the corner.