Scratchin’ the Surface
If nothing else, Amanda Blank’s solo bow I Love You successfully suggests that the Baltimore booty-bass dance movement has more to offer than just squelching synth riffs, blatantly dirty lyrics, or rhythms that thunder into oblivion. Sadly, that evidence from the Philadelphia native and her band of misfits comes in tiny pieces with no clear assembly or arrangement.
On I Love You Blank gets assists from Lykke Li and TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, plus a whole cast of characters affiliated with Baltimore aficionado and dance globetrotter Diplo: Spank Rock and his DJ XXXChange, fellow Philly native Santigold, and Major Lazer teammate Switch. For all of this attendant talent, the album—meaning Blank—comes off as haphazard.
It’s a shame, too, because one thing this crew does well is draw a path from New Wave and other 1980s musics not just to their own brand of party tracks but to other unexpected and nearby styles. Some songs stand strong in spite of Blank, thanks to their production work. The propulsive monotone of “DJ” and the Yaz-ripping “Shame on Me,” for example, venture into the edgy electro-tinged R&B promoted lately by Rihanna and Beyonce.
Blank can put thought and energy into working around her backing tracks, and even carries some songs on her own. This is best heard when she leaves behind the dirty-girl act embraced by rappers from Foxy Brown through Nicki Minaj. The spectacularly spacey dancehall rap “Something Bigger, Something Better” sounds like a vocal remix of Major Lazer’s “Pon de Floor,” begging the question if its lyric “Fuck two-step” is an epithet or a suggested subgenre. “Make-Up,” a cover of Prince protegé Vanity 6, finds Blank embracing electroclash of all things to blur the line between slut pride and social commentary, in grand Peaches fashion.
Ultimately, though, there are too many tracks on I Love You where everything falls apart. “Make It Take It” finds Blank emulating Santigold’s brand of syncopated sing-song rapping. The dyad “Gimme What You Got” and “Lemme Get Some” pairs mixed messages like “I’m the hottest motherfucker on the whole damn block” and “You don’t want none.” Still other songs interpolating ’80s touchpoints like LL Cool J (“A Love Song”) and Romeo Void (“Might Like You Better”) do Blank no stylistic or thematic favors.
I Love You certainly hints at more potential from Amanda Blank. Capitalizing on that starts with a simple two-point plan: Figure out a delivery that works for her, and hang on for dear life to the musicians who will help her cultivate it.