“I was in the future yesterday,” Blouse’s Charlie Hilton sings on “Time Travel,” the standout track from the Portland, Oregon-based synth-pop trio’s self-titled debut. The feeling of being unstuck in time isn’t unique to Blouse, and neither are the record’s ’80s movie soundtrack reference points. From M83 to numerous boilerplate chillwave bands to Drive, the sound of chilly keyboards, mechanical rhythms, and murmuring vocals are once again popular signifiers for melancholic self-involvement. Blouse is too late to the party for any of this, no matter how well executed, to sound novel. But Blouse does have enough worthwhile hooks to not seem totally redundant.
Much of the album’s catchiness comes courtesy of bassist Jacob Portrait, who supplies a zigzagging pulse to “Into Black” that almost shakes Hilton out of her sleepy warbling. On “Videotapes,” Portrait’s driving bassline keeps the song moving forward amid some woozily disorienting keyboard vamping. Even at its best, however, Blouse never rises above the level of alluring background music. A stronger, more convincing singer would have brought Blouse into greater focus. But perhaps the blurry, half-remembered and half-imagined presentation is the point. Blouse is a record made for wandering inside the mind, where memory and dreams meet to form a less concrete kind of reality.