Pop-Up, Psych-Out


Blonder album cover

Crystal Ball EP

Cool World Records, 2020

Review by Kent Manthie                                           

This new EP, Crystal Ball, by Blonder (Constantine Anastasakis) is the third album by this one-man band. Crystal Ball finds Constantine starting with what he’s most familiar: indie-pop and at the same time attempting to spread out and interpolate elements of neo-psychedelia, a trope which has shown up a lot in the indie music world of late.

Not only that, but little snippets of dance-groove-rock, funk, and straight-up popster-poppers, e.g., “Baby You’re a Good One”. I do admit, though, the first time I heard it was as a streaming single via Bandcamp. But when I listened to the EP as a whole (six songs), I thought that it was actually better than I remembered it the first time. Still, it’s not as good as, say, “Bees in the Sun”, which crosses what might, otherwise be a banal love song made into maple syrup by some corporate pop marionettes. But in Anastasakis’s hands it really has a smooth groove and instead of just pop there’s a touch of psychedelia and clubland vitality to it. One of the things I like about this tune is the way it sort of has a great ending to it. Instead of just snuffing out, it slowly burns down with a trippy synth hook.

The title track (“Crystal Ball”) is also outstanding. Like “Bees in the Sun”, “Crystal Ball” has a summery vividness about it that has a positive vibe to it, as opposed to phony angst and pretentious “nihilism” (a limited, only-so-far nihilism), the kind that was all over the radio in the early years of this century (2000-2007), before Emo became fashionable for a minute and then became a kind of favorite whipping boy too. One other “up” tune that I thought really shone a wide spectrum of light is “Glue”.

What really helped out on the Crystal Ball EP was the two producers who really helped Constantine bridge the gap between pop-sensibility and the psychedelic-tinged feel that he wanted to explore: Wayne Rector, Los Angeles-based session man as well as a frequent collaborator, Aaron Maine to take it to the limit as far as the newest, fascinating production technology and in the process add more of Blonder’s psych-pop groove forms.

Well, with Aaron and Wayne’s creativity as well as Blonder’s own creative songwriting, the ideas he had for combining a sweet, free-wheeling, inspired melodic batch of tunes with swatches of “neo-psychedelia”: the fuzzbox guitar tracks laid down on a couple tracks, the trippy synths that put some extra verve into it all and the understated-yet-not-overlooked rhythm section, which doesn’t which doesn’t overwhelm the music but would be definitely missed were they not there and, of course, those lush, melodic vocals that Constantine does so seemingly naturally (except on the closing track, “Baby You’re a Good One” on which Anastasakis is joined by Chloe MK and as such, makes it doubleplusgood in the way of those sheer, glassy vocals).

If you’re ready – or near-ready – to throw your radio away and you happen to be a pop-junkie or a bebop hipster, with a passion for great music, rather than divisive categories/genres, etc. then this is one of the ways to begin that journey into inner space, from where you can absorb the groove-energy coming out of Crystal Ball EP. Of course, there’s SO much more, but I don’t have the room – or the time – to relate all the ways that independent music can broaden your horizons, make you see/hear what you’ve been missing out on by being dependent on the radio for what to listen to. Actually, a great guide, if I say so myself, would be to read through the reviews here, in Independent Review (https://www.kmanthie.wordpress.com) Come, join the world where there’s nothing that isn’t adaptable, nothing is taboo and the only limits are your own! –KM.

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