The Blackmail Seduction returns with The Blackmail Seduction II five years following their debut release and the Minneapolis/Los Angeles four piece make an enormous leap towards solidifying a position among the finest indie rock bands working today. Their traditional configuration shouldn’t suggest they are conventional; The Blackmail Seduction nails down a first class collection driven by superior songwriting and a near tour de force performance from vocalist Jess McClellan. He’s the band’s primary songwriter, but memorably teams with lead guitarist and keyboard player Troy Hardy. Blair Sinta’s drums and Mike Mennell’s bass round out the band and pack quite a wallop in often different contexts; The Blackmail Seduction’s live sound can undoubtedly stand toe to toe with any indie act touring today.
“Dead Girl” has garnered the band considerable attention thanks to its placement on Animal Kingdom on TNT Network. It’s a bracing piece of hard-charging pop rock with McClellan’s singing lending it five-alarm fire urgency. Mennell and Sinta’s rhythm section playing provides the song with its beating heat and the immense throb at the song’s center gives it a pulse pounding through its musical chest. “Tell the World” has a furious pace and more rhythm section fireworks, but Hardy distinguishes himself with the song’s sinewy main lick, a recurring figure imbuing a sharp insolence in the song’s character, and they even pair up for a stinging twin lead guitar attack during the song. These two songs start The Blackmail Seduction II at such a high level you’ll be forgiven for wondering if they can maintain that level of excellence for the album’s entirety. The third track “High” alternates between guitar fueled pop peaks and a retro rock influence peeking through. You might even hear a hint of The Kinks’ Davies brothers emerging in McClellan and Hardy’s vocal harmonies.
The chorus pays off in a big way and the lead guitar punctuates the song nicely at a handful of points. “She’s Leaving Home” takes the band into much more nuanced territory than the aforementioned tracks and the droning synthesizer at the song’s center help give this melancholy track a slightly spectral quality. There’s definitely a late night muscular glide defining the cut “Visiting Hours”. The Blackmail Seduction II’s lyrical landscape is dominated by this sort of material; there’s a mood of injury hanging over many of the songs and pain over being shut out of a loved one’s agony or discontent. The Blackmail Seduction II arguably hits its peak with this song.
“Some Things Are Forever” brings acoustic guitar together with an electric six string track and it gives much of the song rousing uplift it might have otherwise lacked. This uplift carries over the chorus thanks to the light bounce of the song’s chorus, great drumming from Sinta, and buoyant vocal harmonies furthering sweetening the musical mix. “Aloha” will strike many as a bit of lightly whacked out punk surf with a guttural, echo-laden cascading riff and more of the band’s on point vocal harmonies. They are simple, direct, and invariably effective. The entirety of The Blackmail Seduction II is more than a testament to the enduring value of rock music; it measures up to anything I’ve heard from the genre in a number of years and has the sort of long shelf life new releases all too rarely provide these days.