The sights and sounds of the ‘90s have saturated music, fashion, and pop culture over the past several years. Acts like Alvvays, Ratboys, Soccer Mommy, and more have given us freshly tooled updates to the slacker pop sensibilities of Pavement, Superchunk, and Letters to Cleo. This new-school buzzy goodness is a timely reminder that, while there’s arguably nothing new under the sun, artists are well-served to revisit old ideas with a fresh perspective.
Pip Blom serves as another welcome entrant into this ever-expanding field, and the Dutch quartet delivers the goods. Released on Heavenly Recordings, Welcome Break dishes out 11 rip-roaring pop-rock tunes that call to mind every band that ever played The Bronze on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. With only one song passing the four-minute mark, the album offers up whip-smart, nuanced garage rock that feels comfy but also a little nerve-wracking.
This is blazing, tuneful pop music of the highest order. Both the leader of the group and its namesake, Pip leads her bandmates in the creation of hooks upon hooks upon hooks. Sly guitar lead licks dip and dive around the mix as if they are reluctant to take center stage. Additionally, the rock-ribbed rhythm section is much more interested in committed timekeeping than doling out dexterous fills and flourishes. Instead, it’s the rhythm guitar crunch that sits up in the mix, yet it does so with a verve that feels like a sarcastic sneer.
For all those instrumental accolades, it’s Pip’s droll, yet expressive soprano that steals the show and possibly your heart. With a full-throated bleat that fuses Karen O with Daria, it’s easy to imagine a disaffected college student holding court with her fellow outsiders in some dingy off-campus coffee house. Her words are passionate and informed, while still straddling the line between knowing she can change the world and recognizing that the deck is stacked against her.
The opening triptych to this album is an absolute master class in indie-pop songwriting, right down to the swoon-worthy interplay between Pip’s vocal timbre and the guitar snarl. The title track, “12,” and “It Should Have Been Fun” tremble with wry, youthful passion, as they showcase three different approaches to reaching for the stars. From there, standout tracks like “Keep It Together,” “I Know I’m Not Easy to Like” and “Easy” bustle about with barely-contained energy, as taut tempos and sharp edges bite at your ears. When “Trouble in Paraside” brings everything to a close, It’s hard to keep a smile from splitting your face in two as the built-up tension slowly releases from your entire body.
The music might be fun and zippy on top, but a melancholy anxiety about the state of the world lies beneath. The lyrics are reminiscent of the stuff that close friends yell back and forth at each other at the bar when they’re tired and ready to go home. The entire aesthetic oozes world-weariness while longing for a better future. It’s as if the music actively seeks to cheer up its listeners while still recognizing that things still suck.
Pip Blom excels when they let themselves have fun while staying true to themselves and their ethics. Welcome Break features crisp tunes packed with big choruses that revel in tight songcraft and superb chemistry. Instead of basking in the stylistic signifiers of yesteryear, the group sits firmly at the curious intersection of bemused sincerity and jaded angst—the true hallmarks of the influence of the ’90s.