By Eleni P. Austin

The first three tracks off her self-titled debut offer a crash course in the many moods of Blondshell. “Veronica Mars,” named for Kristen Bell’s 2004 TV series, opens with tensile electric strumming. The mood feels ominous as deadpan vocals casually reveal “’Veronica Mars, 2000 aughts, Logan’s a dick, I’m learning that’s hot.” Scathing staccato guitar riff-age suddenly hijack’s the blasé arrangement, unleashing an acrid guitar solo that veers away from the intime bedroom confessional, hewing more closely to Metal guitarist God Yngwie Malmsteen’s neoclassical shred. “Kiss City” nonchalantly flips the script, as a kick-drum beat gives way to warm piano notes that trace sophisticated, Burt Bacharach-y chord progressions. Gossamer guitars echo and sway, above agile bass lines and an elastic rhythm. Her intoxicating vocal delivery is matched by lyrics that seem equally smitten; “Kiss city, just look me in the eye when I’m about to finish, Kiss city, I think my kink is when you tell me that I’m pretty.” This post-coital bliss is momentarily derailed by a squally guitar solo. Meanwhile, “Olympus.” is all jangly acoustic guitars, thready bass and a chunky backbeat. Vocals mew and purr as lyrics try and unpack a chemically-induced folie a deux. The mood shifts from clandestine to contrite; “Can’t get through the winter, at your house sweat out the drugs all through the summer, let my heart sleep in the gutter, wish I remember when we kissed, but now it’s faded, cuz I always just replayed it til I left/I wanna save myself you’re part of my addiction, I just keep you in the kitchen while I burn, burn, burn, burn.” Reverb-drenched riffs collide with piquant guitars on the break, working the steps back to sentience.

Blondshell (ne’ Sabrina Titelbaum) grew up in New York City, Manhattan specifically. One of five siblings (including a twin brother), she was raised by her single dad, who earned a living as a hedge-fund mogul. (According to Sabrina, her mom, who died in 2018, wasn’t around much when she was a kid). She grew up listening to Classic Rock, and her dad took her to see Bob Dylan, the Stones and Cher when she was young. She cites the Broadway musical Jersey Boys as a formative influence. Adele and Amy Winehouse also crept in there, she taught herself to play “Back To Black” on the piano.

Attending the exclusive Dalton School, she became infatuated with The Strokes and The Killers. Fake I.D. in hand, she began frequenting Bowery clubs. The National, as well as Lana Del Rey and Lorde gave her a newfound respect for lyrics, especially those imbued with an intense specificity. During this period, she discovered that songwriting allowed her to express her feelings she couldn’t articulate through conversation.


Sabrina moved to L.A. for college in 2015. She was accepted into the Pop Program at USC’s Thorton School. The course was designed for students interested in “pursuing a career in the performance of Popular Music.” Although she studied Classical and Jazz theory, along with the art of harmony, she dropped out after two years. Diving headlong into creating and performing her own music, she truncated her last name and began releasing music as Baum.

She began collaborating with Yves Rothman (Yves Tumor, Girlpool and Porches) and had nearly completed an EP when the pandemic hit. By then, her song “Fuckboy” had already garnered two million streams. But once the lockdown happened, she found herself drawn to bands like Nirvana and Hole. Those influences began to re-shape her writing style. Her perspective also shifted when she opted to get sober.

Her new songs also took a page from writers like Rachel Cusk, Clare Sestanovich, Patti Smith and Rebecca Solnit. Inspired by the candor of Solnit’s memoir, Reflections Of My Nonexistence. She resisted the urge to trivialize the things she had been going through.

Once the lockdown was lifted, she let Yves know she wasn’t interested in releasing the Baum EP they had completed. She played him a rough demo of “Olympus” and he was floored. So they scrapped the EP, and she adopted a new nom de Rock, Blondshell. She created a clutch of new songs. Once a Soundcloud link began circulating, it set off a bidding war between record labels. She ended up signing with Partisan Records.

This is one of those unicorn records where each song is better than the one that precedes it. Both “Sober Together” and “Joiner” reveal a penchant for conflating romantic obsession and addiction. The former opens with some breezy vocalese and shivery guitars. When she gets down to business, her demeanor feels opaque and inscrutable; “You’ve been in the bathroom, perfect for an asshole, I can see your jaw move, try to keep it stable, and I get it, I can see right through you, only because I have the same problem.” Loping bass lines and a clanky beat are salted in the mix. The lush arrangement is juxtaposed by lyrics that work hard to justify and absolve indulgent behavior; “We got sober together, but you’ve been going back, and I can’t blame you, it’s in the blood, but part of the disease is giving up, call me, I wanna be there for you, but not in a way that lets you take me down with you.” A shimmery guitar coda echo the meticulous ache that defined The Smiths’ earliest songs.

The latter offers a blurry polaroid of post-adolescent angst. Ringing guitars, slurred keys, angular bass and a propulsive beat recall ‘90s buzz bands like Elastica and that dog. Lyrics pivot from caustic contempt; “Think you watched way too much HBO growing up, now you got one arm cut and when you eat you throw up,” to grudging affection. Stacked harmonies coalesce on the hooky chorus; “I think I wanna save you, I think I wanna join in, I think wanna save you, two people from the bottom of the bin.” On the bridge, the melody shapeshifts once more, as guitars shudder and skitter across thumpy bass lines and a cantilevered rhythm before paring down to angelic vocals and strummy acoustic guitars, stopping on a dime.

Equally irresistible is “Salad,” a succinct saga of betrayal and revenge. Twinkly piano notes are bookended by sinewy guitars, spidery bass lines and a rumbling backbeat. Blondshell’s vocals are fittingly feral as the opening couplet quietly plots a bit of biblical retribution; “Keep an eye out for his pick-up, I know all about it, I would take a gun out, put some poison in his salad and it wouldn’t be so bad, it wouldn’t hurt the world, look what you did, you’ll make a killer of a Jewish girl.” Despite her sangfroid, the calibrated chaos between verses tells a different story, as the instrumentation alternately revs up and simmers down. Turning the other cheek seems out of the question as she addresses her tormentor; “It wouldn’t be so bad, it shouldn’t hurt like this, look what you did, you made a killer of a pacifist.” As the arrangement pitches and roils it’s swept into a sonic maelstrom that mirrors the queasy sensation of treachery.

“Sepsis” drafts off the quiet-loud dynamic that The Pixies pioneered and Nirvana perfected. Swoony guitars collide with boomerang bass lines and a junky back-beat. Lyrically, Blondshell draws decades of medical knowledge, gleaned from repeated viewings of House and Grey’s Anatomy. Pretzel logic allows her to reconnect with a douchey ex; “I’m going back to him, I know my therapist’s pissed, we both know he’s a dick, at least it’s the obvious kind.” But her hollow rationales ring false; “I’m gonna find a cure, if I’m in love nothing hurts, give enough make it work, clarify what I deserve.” A glassy guitar solo leads to a half-hearted epiphany; “He wears a front-facing cap, the sex is almost always bad, I don’t care cuz I’m in love, I don’t know him well enough, what am I projecting, he’s gonna start infecting my life, it’ll hit all at once, like sepsis.” A bit of distorto feedback ushers the track to a close.

“Tarmac” is the album’s magnum opus. Serpentine electric riffs brush up against hushed acoustic chords that are punctuated by fingers on frets. The arrangement ping-pongs from sludgy dirge on the verses to a buoyant Bubblegum chorus. Emotions see-saw between resignation; “I can’t stay away from my new friends, I think I’m losing myself, I’m in love with a feeling, not with anyone or any real thing,” to revelation; “Everything revolves around kissing and when he’s here, I’m alone, I’m alone, in his car, in his arms, then it hits that I’m damned, that I’m damned because I can’t make it better.” A caterwauling guitar solo underscores her steely fragility.

The record closes with the haunting “Dangerous.” Searching guitar chords wrap around diffident, slightly self-conscious moments that are at once perspicacious and wildly naïve; “Asking you, did I bring down the vibe, after the hangout, he and I made out, and I think I hate it, but I initiated, feeling all that shame, I wanna break, I wanna take the night off, but they’ll forget if I’m gone/I wanna have a drink, emotional vacation, I don’t know moderation, I just know enough to know that I don’t know a thing, and I want someone to take the blame.” It’s a raw, slightly callow and brutally honest end to a great record.

43 years ago, on The Pretenders’ self-titled debut, Chrissie Hynde casually snarled “I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole was for” on the scabrous track “Tattooed Love Boys” and Rock & Roll felt the paradigm shift. 13 years later, it shifted yet again on “Fuck And Run,” from Liz Phair’s debut, Exile In Guyville.” Following an uneventful hook-up, she laments “I can feel it in my bones, I’m going to spend another year alone, it’s fuck and run, fuck and run, even when I was 17, it’s fuck and run, fuck and run, even when I was 12.” Now, 30 years later, Blondshell has picked up that gauntlet, as she attempts to navigate the rocky shoals of sex and romance. Candid and complicated, she beguiles the listener even as she loses the thread. Blondshell is one of those records that reveals something new with each spin.