by Theodore Rowe
Before any comment on form, content, or delivery can be reasonably made, it must be said that Washington D.C.’s Bless gets the blood going. The group’s new self-titled seven-inch leaves little room for wallflowers with singer Luke Reddick’s verbal gyrations. Pleasant as it is to get all dark and downcast, Bless really treats the listener to an energy and movement seldom found nowadays in one all-too-serious post-punk rehash after another.
Luckily, the band also appeals to the most hardened Mojo Magazine reading dad-rockers as they do the desperate DIY kids trying to resuscitate the new wavers of the early ’80s. In three songs, clocking in around five minutes, Bless sounds bigger, plays tighter, and struts harder than any of their east coast peers. More importantly, the group’s rock / new wave throwback extends beyond pure imitation. Instead, Bless dips into an uncanny valley between all of the glam and glitz—a mingling of rock’s bodily inebriations with a dash of 2017’s tech neurosis.
The cartoonish vocoded intro of “You’re Always On TV,” repeated for the entirety of the song, precedes any sort of rock-driven catharsis until locked into a delightfully chanted, surveillance state rhythm. The syncopation of the chant with Reddick’s whoops pushes the song to its point of maximality. Of course, the song simply rocks and could end there, but its underlying anxiety of social media on-guardness, or as Reddick yelps “I don’t know you and you know me,” pulls the band away from rock’s nostalgia abyss. Bless recognizes its own plasticity, or the tendency to mold or be molded. Reddick’s namechecks and hollers, the tell-tale signs of rock’s masturbatory clichés, are ridiculous especially when leveraged against the criticisms and anxieties of social media’s instantaneous celebrity. Yet, the frontman persona Reddick puts on acts as an additional mask nicely switched out from those used on social media and offline. The balancing levels of self-aware cover-ups are why, besides being sonically stronger, the new seven-inch is superior to the band’s earlier recordings. Masks, plastic, and rock have always come in handy for one another, but few groups today are able to tie all together like Bless does.
Look to the B-side to see such a fluidity of identity. “Chameleon” harps on the moment-by-moment alterations of identity by blending in and out of the wallpaper. Such an idea seems like oxygen in a supposedly identity-friendly music culture which frequently burdens itself by nitty-gritty songs focused on the so-called static self. Intimacy quickly becomes replaced with narcissism. Still, it helps that Reddick does a good David Byrne—one of rock’s touchstone shape-shifters. “Sick Puppy” crashes down and packs out its little less than two-minute length. Credit should be given to the rest of the band for honing in so narrowly and tightly, allowing for Reddick’s irony-tinted fluctuations to level up confidently against the velocity of the music.
With this new seven-inch, Bless solidifies themselves as a hodgepodge. That is, the band can only be possible by its members being in other bands. Bless serves as a musical exoneration for its members as much as it does an attempt to eliminate fixed identity. Does that sound too serious? Just remember, it’s only rock-n-roll.