Believe it or not, Sabrina Teitelbaum – who is fast emerging as one of the leading names in gnarled alt-rock – actually started out releasing dark, twisted pop music under the moniker BAUM. Though it’s clear she’s always had a knack for crafting moments of biting wit (case in point: 2019 single F**boy and its smarting one-liner “know all your moves in the sheets, ain’t nothing I haven’t seen”) that project’s accompanying gloss never quite felt like the right fit.
Following a hiatus, during which Teitelbaum was busy navigating through a significant break-up and the death of her mother, F**kboy was supposed to pave the way to a new EP called Curve. Her heart, however, was no longer in it. As it happened, she was working with indie producer Yves Rothman (Miya Folick, Girlpool, Sunflower Bean) on the canned release, and upon hearing the artist’s in-progress demos, he urged her to keep chipping away. It’s here, right before lockdown struck, that Blondshell was born.
And it’s evident that many of these songs were penned in isolation; each track on her self-titled debut album, released last month, takes hold of a fragmented memory and drills deep down into the messy guts of it. If East London’s Moth Club was already in a slightly fragile state before Teitelbaum took to its gold-curtained stage – murmurs of Tina Turner’s death circling their way around the former working men’s club’s plush velvet booths – then Blondshell’s headline show was the thing that tipped them well and truly over the edge, the venue mesmerised by her unshowy performance.
On Sober Together – “a song about friendship” Teitelbaum put it simply, introducing the song – she transported us back to a hazy late night, her relapsing friend emerging from the bathroom with a swinging jawline.
The waltzing Kiss City (“a song about kissing,” announced Teitelbaum in another of her concise summaries) ached with co-dependency beneath its shimmering veneer of romance. “Palm in palm, it turns me on,” she sang, “when you tell me you’re not going away”.
A far cry from the polish of earlier endeavours, Blondshell instead shares DNA with the likes of Alanis Morissette, Hole, and Liz Phair’s spiky debut Exile in Guyville (incidentally, Teitelbaum is supporting the latter on her 30th anniversary US tour for that same record).
Despite coming out just last month, each Blondshell cut was greeted with a roomful of enthusiastic whoops. A fairly low-key performer, Teitelbaum lent the record’s sharpest lines a deadpan delivery (”I’m going back to him/I know my therapist’s pissed/We both know he’s a dick,” she sang atop the twisted guitar lines of Sepsis) and slung in a couple of unreleased songs and covers – her blistering take on The Cranberries’ Disappointment, and a cover of Charm You, by Lebanese-American solo artist Samia – for good measure. As a result, the energy hovered around the same steady mark throughout, rarely reaching an explosive crescendo or falling away into tension-riddled hush.
The one exception to this was Dangerous, the paired-back closer to Teitelbaum’s debut. Reckoning with fragile sobriety, its protagonist teeters on the edge: “I wanna have a drink, emotional vacation, I don’t know moderation.” Throughout, the highlight of the night, the room was silent, with the last drop of Blondshell’s sharply reflective first record conjuring up particularly potent intensity.
Blondshell’s debut album is out now