It doesn’t seem as though they should be pop music. Jona Bechtolt and Khaela Maricich, the members of Portland’s Blow, have close ties to what has become the lo-fi freak-folk wave. Bechtolt has played drums for "movement" poster-boy (and friend of Beck!) Devendra Banhart, and Maricich’s sweet, unpolished voice is more recognizable from her work with labelmate Phil Elverum’s homegrown experimental bands, Mt. Eerie and the Microphones, than from her previous Blow releases. Paper Television is the second full-length they worked on together (Maricich released two albums as the Blow before Bechtolt joined for the 2004 EP, Poor Aim: Love Songs), and it’s the closest to the radio pop the band has always experimented with.
The album’s cold, no-wave, electronic beats are warmed by Maricich’s tough yet tiny voice and the duo’s tightly written pop lyrics that have previously been delivered more in a spoken, stream-of-conscious manner than they are here, with straightforward indie appeal. "All the girls are sitting on a pile of gold/ and the boys/ you know they want it," begins opener "Pile of Gold." Maricich’s lyrics are intelligent pop: They are more honestly abrupt than cliché, but their appeal is in their cleverness (or quirkiness). On techno-pop gem "True Affection," Maricich intimately sings, "I was out of your league/ and you were twenty thousand underneath the sea." Then later, "Your depths made a pressure that punctured my works/ and all your fluids couldn’t tolerate my thirst." The album’s theme is relationships (of course), but lyrics such as "If something in the deli aisle makes you cry/ you know I’ll put my arm around you/ and I’ll walk you outside" ensure that the Blow will never be on a mass-marketed pop compilation.
It is, perhaps unfortunately, the limitations of the music genre they have attempted to expand upon that ultimately limit the songs on Paper Television. At times, Bechtolt’s and Maricich’s layered, repetitive, electronic beats and lack of experimentation on such songs as "The Long List of Girls" and "Eat Your Heart Up" keep the duo from transcending the concept. Instead, the songs fall short of becoming catchy or endearing, and exist as sub-par fillers on a pop album between the more finished "Babay" and "Parentheses." The songs sound as though they came from the heyday of 1980s techno-pop, but the beats are so well blended, and the lyrics so conscious, that they sound surprisingly modern.
Enough of the songs here (namely "True Affection," "Fists Up" and "Parenthesis") are original and memorable. They are as contradictory as the album’s title and as organically pop as the construction-paper audio software waveforms on the album’s cover. Paper Television is a self-aware pop album made by lovers of pop who are also aware of its alternatives. And it sounds like what it is: indie-teen.