Yukon Blonde make the jump to synth rock with style with On Blonde

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A band facing down a third album, off the back of a three year hiatus and fresh from exploring personal projects; a scenario that begs the question “How do we do this?”. And like so many bands before them, it seems that for Canadian indie rockers Yukon Blonde, the answer was a change of line up. Long serving guitars took a back seat to be replaced with an impressive selection of synthesisers. Born out of vocalist Jeffrey Innes’ new found obsession with all things analogue, synths previously lurking in the background, are now thrust out into the spotlight on their new LP On Blonde.

Yukon Blonde bigsound

Switching things up Canadian five-piece Yukon Blonde let their ambitions run wild with their new, synth driven sound of On Blonde.

What follows is a glittering, kaleidoscopic sound to frame Yukon Blonde’s catchy indie pop. No strangers to experimentation, Yukon Blonde recorded their self-titled debut album live to tape back in 2010. And On Blonde was very much the product of exploration and experimentation; with no end point in mind, Innes began casually messing around with digital programming, synths and drum machines during the band’s time out.

When they did take the new material into the studio, they were faced with an embarrassment of time and riches – in the form of a 24 track analogue board – at The Hive Creative Labs. Working with producer Colin Stewart, a project that started out so disparately and so carefree quickly became one of Yukon Blonde’s most collaborative and focused efforts to date.

It would be nearly impossible to produce a synth heavy release that didn’t call up automatic comparisons with the 80’s. And there is no question that a listen through to On Blonde is something like a night drive through a previous incarnation of LA In a Buick, complete with flashing neon signs and sultry summer air. Close your eyes during Saturday Night and you can almost see the passing street lights and feel the city buzz.

Elsewhere, On Blonde marries this retro electro slant with psychedelia and blues rock. Opening track Confused is an easy-listening intro with pumping drum pad beats and catchy vocals, cosmic effects swirl in the background as a promise of things to come. Make U Mine, a dreamy, psych ballad with a funk inspired riff, is further proof that Yukon Blonde have a firm handle on their new tools.

The leaner but looming Starvation really grasps pulsating sounds in a throbbing analogue line, coupled with an eery Tubular Bells intro and a deeper vocal that is a great change up from Innes’ customary falsetto. The only criticism that could be levelled at On Blonde is that in obsessively refining sounds and instrumentation, Yukon Blonde may have inadvertently constrained themselves. Lacking real drive or build in favour of beautifully rounded sound, a number of the tracks flatline frustratingly.

That said, tracks like I Wanna Be Your Man do hit the spot with big beats and a chugging blues riff. This one keeps pace without being hurried, and has a hip-jutting swagger to it. Delicately placed synths come to fore in a sort of solo which has some real brilliance to it. On the flip side, the acoustic grounded Hannah is a fleeting but beautiful interlude that feels like it gives some breathing space to the album. Heavy on the psych-folk influences, lyrically charming and reaching back to a different era with Crosby, Stills & Nash harmonies.

Signing off with the disco beat Jezebel, it’s a strong culmination; resting on solid melodies and a simple but effective refrain. This one very much fades away rather than burning out, as the band leave the stage. Still torn between wishing that they would just rip it up a little more, and the admission that maybe this particular brand of synth rock from Yukon Blonde is exactly where it should be – there’s no denying that On Blonde is a strong return for Yukon Blonde.

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