by Ben Waldman
The Yuck frontman’s solo debut is a break-up album for a lonely era.
Max Bloom knew his solo debut would be a little lonely. After all, it’s called a “solo” album for a reason: no matter how many fingerprints are all over every track, there is one name on the album cover, one account on Spotify, one person whose reputation rests on the music’s reception.
It was a startling proposition for Bloom to make music by himself. In his mid-teens, he helped with Daniel Blumberg to form the nucleus of Cajun Dance Party, a London five-piece that caught the ear of Thom Yorke with their sound, a heady elegy to the Brit pop of the ‘90s. Soon, Bloom and Blumberg went a different route, forming Yuck, a band whose name belies the pretty sounds they made.
Yuck’s start couldn’t have been much more auspicious: their self-titled debut was welcomed with open arms by critics, who both breathlessly celebrated and questioned their romantic nostalgia for the early work of bands like Teenage Fanclub, Pavement or Yo La Tengo. Pitchfork gave 2011’s Yuck a glowing review, and the band drew raves at home in the U.K., and in Japan.
Bloom’s solo career got off in dramatically different circumstances: his debut record, Perfume—which he’d been working on for two years and which was entirely about the end of a decade-long relationship, a time he calls the loneliest of his life—was released on April 24, as London was in lockdown and any semblance of a concert could only be done on a livestream: the gorgeous break-up songs Bloom had written by himself— “To Be Alone,” “Call Me When It’s Over,” “Will It Last a Lifetime?” — were now gorgeous songs written for the era of self-isolation.
It’s a Tuesday in May when Bloom logs onto Zoom to speak with Stylus, and his chosen background is a palette of colourful donuts. “Sorry, let me get rid of this,” he says. “I’ve been experimenting with weird backgrounds.”
His Hackney apartment is spare, from what’s visible: a brown easy chair with an acoustic guitar resting on it, a TV, a record display. He seems happy to do the interview. It’s nice to meet someone who heard what he put out into the world. He’s been playing live sets on Instagram , and it’s tough to tell what the audience thinks.
While it isn’t a Yuck album, it is the best music that Bloom, 30, has made since that band’s first album. It’s raw, yet polished, and you can almost hear the freedom its creator found in processing the end of an era and what had been a nadir for him — mentally, creatively, financially.
“When we broke up, I started living with my parents,” he said. “I didn’t have any money, and I didn’t have a job, and I was just kind of floating. I felt like my life was broken, so I was trying to put the pieces back together and analyze what went wrong.” He watched a lot of Bojack Horseman. “I was grieving, and the album was documenting the process of that grief,” he adds.
From the first note, you can hear it: “To Be Alone” was the first song Bloom wrote, and it begins with him plaintively singing, “You are the girl that I love the most, when we got drunk we burned our cheese on toast.” On Yuck, Bloom was nostalgic for the 1990s. Here, he’s nostalgic for burnt sandwiches — anything that connects him to his past.
He listened to a lot of Car Seat Headrest’s Twin Fantasy when writing, and you can hear that too in the way he sensibly layers his sounds. “Thinking ‘Bout You Forever Now” is a jaunty dirge. “Bottle” is a gritty soliloquy for the end of an era.
“When I smell your perfume, it pulls me under,” Bloom shouts.
The nature of album releases is that Bloom is a different man now than when the melodies popped into his head two years ago. As the songs developed, he sent snippets to Patrick Fitzroy and Anna Vincent of the London band Heavy Heart, two of his best friends. As time went by, Bloom and Vincent started dating, and are now riding out the pandemic together in self-isolated bliss while working on new music together.
“It’s quite exciting for me,” Bloom says, lighting up. “Anna is a really talented musician and an amazing lyricist. Having her in the room just to bounce ideas off is a really fun thing.”
“This little time period, we’ve made so much music,” he said, indicating the makings of another album are already being written; he didn’t rule out more Yuck though. “A good sign that something is going in a good direction is if I can’t stop thinking about a song in my head, and that’s happened a couple of times.”
It might be a while before the world hears those songs or Perfume at concert venues, Bloom realizes. But he seems at peace with it: it’s a lot less draining to tour from your webcam than in a minivan driving across Europe. He’d be fine staying at home to write music; it’s what he’s done since he was 14 years old.