It’s a pretty good rock band origin story: a young Amsterdam native named Pip Blom sees a poster for a songwriting contest. Intrigued, she decides to enter, but there’s just one problem – she’s never written a song in her life. Undeterred, with a blend of youthful insouciance, a Loog kid’s guitar, and an ear for a hook, Blom learns to write and enters the contest. She likes the whole songwriting thing and decides to keep at it; she writes enough tunes that she can play live; she puts together a band to flesh things out.
Now 23, Pip Blom the songwriter fronts Pip Blom the band, which has garnered steady acclaim and Next Big Thing hype from the notoriously ravenous UK music press, among others, over the past three years. Joined by her brother Tender Blom (guitar), Darek Marcks (bass), and Gini Cameron (drums), Boat showcases Blom’s knack for writing hooky, ‘90s-indebted indie rock that doesn’t quite slack and isn’t entirely lo-fi, but it’s not not those things, either. It’s unselfconscious, with a prominent grunginess and a knack for the kind of why-didn’t-I-think-of-that riffs that only a select few can sit down and conjure up. The band has it together enough to give the illusion they don’t, and the songs, recorded by producer Dave McCracken at Big Jelly Studios in Margate, England, are enhanced in all the right places by sympathetic production.
Blom writes songs with insistent hooks and an underlying post-punk nervousness: “Don’t Make It Difficult” hits this sweet spot well, with early ‘80s Rough Trade riffage and an alt-rock du jour chorus from the Breeders’ playbook. “Tired” trades droning guitars and a tight rhythm section with wide open, unfussy harmonies; Blom turns in an expressive vocal turn on “Set of Stairs,” mixing a Life Without Buildings exuberance with the chunky dream punk of Nouns-era No Age, while “Tinfoil” hearkens back to early Black Rebel Motorcycle Club with intertwined, smoky guitars before falling back on a big, grunge-indebted melody.
What little tension exists on Boat is a byproduct of dreamy verses and loud choruses. This formula also owes a debt to Flying Nun’s distinctive brand of psychedelia, if a bit less shambolic. “Day It” milks intoxicating, Clean-esque minimalism to good effect, while “Bedhead” has a laconic feel befitting its title; its slippery, sunstroked chorus riff and stoned-but-sharp melody is equal parts Dunedin Sound and Courtney Barnett. “Sorry” sounds like if pre-Cars worship Strokes consumed a diet of New Zealand DIY 7”s instead of Television LPs – its chorus is a bit by the numbers, but it gets the point across.
The album shines most brightly when it introduces additional elements (and energy) to this mix. “Daddy Issues” is one highlight – a perfectly snotty collision of Toni Basil and Throwing Muses. “Ruby” hits with an immediacy rare on the album, as Blom delivers one of her best vocal turns – the move from chiming, tight guitars on the bridge to a blast of a chorus feels exhilarating. Closing track “Aha” is another standout vocal mixed with a dynamic, slow-burning performance from the band – it explodes into gorgeous, fuzzy, BRMC darkness that feels all too brief.
Laid back and confident, Boat is an unpretentious, self-assured debut from a talented young songwriter. It’s not earth-shattering, but it doesn’t claim to be – by not pretending to be any more than it is, it imbues itself with ample charm and an easy listenability. Pip Blom delivers music entirely enjoyable on its own terms, whose best moments signal an exciting future.
Pip Blom will make their LA debut on Tuesday, November 19 at The Echo! Tickets to the show are $12.00 and are on sale now.
Words by Andrew Ledford