After the last 18 months of political turmoil, societal upheaval and lockdowns, is there anything most of us want more than a ‘welcome break’ right now? In the COVID-era, musicians have been divided on what approach to take to our pandemic-age; do you look inwards and embrace the melancholy of the moment (Taylor Swift’s Folklore, Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher), or do you offer a bright and vibrant distraction in musical form? (Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, Kylie Minogue’s Disco). Amsterdam quartet Pip Blom opt firmly for the latter on their sophomore effort; the aptly titled Welcome Break - named after the British service station chain.
Welcome Break offers both a thematic break from the last year-and-a-half, and a sonic departure from the last decade, or two, of musical trends; blending and channeling ‘90s britpop and the music of the Riot Grrrl movement with ease. Crunchy guitar hooks and manifesto-like declarations (“You don’t want this / You need to change this”) on opener “You Don’t Want This” instantly evokes Sleater-Kinney’s Dig Me Out. Meanwhile, the ability of lead singer Pip to effortlessly alternate between snarling self-deprecation (“I Know I’m not easy to like”) and dead-pan put-downs (“Everything you wanted makes me so tired”) is reminiscent of Liz Phair on her landmark debut Exile in Guyville.
This exhilarating dynamism present in Pip’s vocals makes Welcome Break an addictive listen. What may seem like a deceptively simple album on first listen, is underpinned by an understated versatility; Pip’s vocals move from angry to unaffected to melancholic; with there even being slight hints of an Americana twang on “Easy” and “Keep It Together”. Small nuggets of brilliance like this unfurl with each new listen of the album; making it near-impossible to not want to return to Welcome Break again and again.
Whereas their debut Boat was a straightforwardly enjoyable album, Welcome Break is more dynamic, with richer and more varied arrangements; moving from the solemn to the anthemic with ease. Meanwhile, in comparison to Boat - whose songs worked just as well on their own as they did as part of a larger project - Welcome Break is more conceptually fully-realised; exploring the messiness of love and it’s demise with laser point precision; the jump from the scornful ‘12’, for instance, to the sentimental ‘It Should Have Been Fun’ captures the volatility of feelings that accompany a relationship in it’s dying days.
Now, there are some small faults on the group’s sophomore effort - Pip Blom occasionally crosses the line from homage to pastiche, and the placement of the bittersweet “It Should Have Been Fun” immediately after the anthemic “12” is jarring. But ultimately, Welcome Break is an album that asks listeners not to scour for small faults, but to devote themselves fully to the ambiance of this simultaneously retro-sounding, yet forward-looking album.