Following a set of remixes last year Erol Alkan returns to production duties for The Long Blondes and unleashes another great album for 2008.
BlackPlastic was a little slow off of the mark on this one. The Long Blondes are from Sheffield and whilst their first album lacked a certain something, coming off a bit like No Doubt in places (and who needs that?), Couples is a refinement of the band's sound.
Opener "Century" is a perfect example of what has changed: this is a track Ladytron would sell there white foundation and black mascara for. With icy synths but a live band backing them up Erol's influence is clear.
This is an album that wears its roots on its sleeve. The aformentioned "Century" sounds like early Human League, particularly when it is cut up by some nasty electronic stabs in the closing minutes. Harking back to the sounds of Sheffield's best bands (there are elements of Pulp here, not to mention the usual post-punk suspects) not only gives the band something on which to define themselves and gives Couples a cohesive feeling.
Within the cohesive whole there is plenty of variation to keep things interesting. "Guilt" combines electronic rhythm together with vocals that veer from pop to icy cold. The vocal whispers at the beginning and the deadpan delivery of "You know what it's like, it's happened to everybody once or twice..." give way to a swagger that could only exist a pop record. "Here Comes The Serious Bit" punks things up with a rapid join-in chorus and bags of attitude and "Too Clever By Half" goes for a minimal approach, setting up vocals against just a rhythm section to create a raw but sassy atmosphere.
Couples single-handedly makes The Long Blondes ones to watch, a mish-mash of differing takes on the same town it is as quintessentially 'Sheffield' as taking the bus up to Crookes or taking a stroll down Eccleshall Road. Much more than their considerably more successful peers, The Artic Monkeys, The Long Blondes capture what is great about their home town.