After finding unhappiness with the direction of her pop music career, Sabrina Teitelbaum took the time to grow, ridding herself of addictions, finding herself musically and mentally, and started writing music that speaks more to her being than what professional writers could provide. Beginning when she was cooped up in an East Los Angeles apartment amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, it eventually became a fantastic debut under a new name, Blondshell. Unlike the pop music Teitelbaum made prior, the sound of her self-titled debut is a complete 180 from what indie fans would’ve expected when she released “Olympus” last year. Blondshell comes and goes ferociously, bringing resounding depth lyrically while expanding the horizons of apropos Alternative Rock, adding some edge to make the emotional complexities feel heard. As one to never hold high standards for debuts, Blondshell was a sheer surprise, not because it fits within the musical sphere that my sensitivities are privy to, but because it’s different. It has clear direction, and as it rounds the bases from beginning to end, captivating pivots will have you returning, especially between the tempos and vocal performances.
After giving Blondshell a few listens, one element of the music’s appeal became evident, the lure it uses to grip the listener. It keeps us hooked by letting the songs flow on repeat without focusing on forcing something to be catchy, whether it’s the hook or lightly layered melodies and rhymes. It’s centered on the performance and the multi-faceted layers beneath the vocal performance, where the instruments elevate and evolve the music exponentially. It makes it known instantly with the riotous “Veronica Mars,” placing a stamp on a type of aesthetic that will get heard again later in a listen-through. In between tracks of that ilk, Sabrina Teitelbaum brings some tempered balance with these downshifts, letting us hear the depth of her artistry with some stripped-down but layered instrumentations that balance modest pop vocals with its indie rock core. As we listen to her deliver themes of heartbreak, anger, toxic relationship dynamics, addiction and substance abuse, and social anxiety, there is this rich sense of understanding amongst varying levels. Though it may be a lot of themes, Blondshell never feels bloated or over-sizzled, as Teitelbaum keeps a steady balance between performances.
Much of the album’s greatness comes from a consistent balance between vocal performances and production, especially when the leading artist is more of the singer-songwriter as someone else produces. Though Sabrina Teitelbaum’s input into the composition is here and pivotal, producer Yves Rothman brings it to life, allowing us to hear these multi-dimensional songs carrying viscerally raw emotions. Whether it’s dreary and dark like “Salad,” where Teitelbaum sings about contemplating murderous revenge on a friend’s abusive partner, or somberly speaking on sobriety and relapse on “Sober Together,” the way these tracks’ production contrast each other shows depth between styles. Though these have their own sense of being and flow, keeping in tow a consistency of sound, the more rockified pivots with “Veronica Mars,” “Sepsis,” and “Joiner” boasts the angst within, letting feel entrenched with her emotions, allowing us to feel the kinetic synergy between the two as you fall in love with captivating aesthetic and melodies that are occasionally more deadpan than vibrant, but fits her true sense of self.
Though the originality stays nigh to it, one gets two songs that aren’t as profound: the second and second-to-last, which don’t feel as refined, tiptoeing some standard indie rock complexions without teetering too far into being unique. With “Kiss City,” the mood stays strong, and the performance is sheer mellow-gold; however, the production doesn’t seem to carry steam, like the love Sabrina Teitelbaum writes about, until the last 20 seconds when the chorus gets a kick from louder instrumental arrangements. “Tarmac,” the second-to-last song, parallels its deadpan-like performance with an equally simple indie-pop layout that offers little to the imagination. They aren’t inherently poor songs, but sometimes the delivery feels slighted, as the production can sound more hollow than not. Its construction tempers beautiful insight into the effect of addiction and how seemingly it can overcome the levels of importance. As Teitelbaum sings, “I can’t stay away from my new friends/I think that I’m losing myself/I’m in love with a feeling/Not with anyone or any real thing.” We hear and read her as she laments how much she loves the high, losing sight of the world around her, reflecting a sentiment carried throughout.
An outstanding debut, Blondshell is a breath of fresh air amongst the many indie rockers debuts these days. It’s more that Sabrina Teitelbaum has found a composite direction that relays the potency of her vocal strengths, levying a profoundly smooth falsetto between the deadpan-ish delivery and the melodic rock avenue. The writing is the strong point, as we hear Teitelbaum weave different perspectives and stories to relay what she’s feeling and what she’s overcome. It’s all interconnected within her sphere, even when she sings about her close friend’s relationship. It’s further bolstered by gripping parallels and connections between similar themes, like drug use or abuse, and its effects on life, as she beautifully composes with Yves Rothman on “Joiner.” Ultimately, Blondshell gets one of my more enthusiastic recommendations, especially if you were big on the Boygenius debut.