The Long Blondes, Selfridges, London <!-- none onestar twostar fourstar fivestar -->

Future punks prefer Blondes
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If their name promised a return to old-school glamour, The Long Blondes delivered in spades. After a succession of scruffy kids in polo shirts and ripped jeans, this Sheffield quintet's chiffon scarves, cardigans and Dalmatian polka dots provided sartorial fresh air.

Vintage chic made them eminently suitable to play the label-obsessed department store's Future Punk festival to celebrate the genre's 30th anniversary. In so doing, Selfridges has made a consumerist paradise out of the formerly iconoclastic scene. Instead of Withnail and I's hippie wigs at Woolworths, it was Ramones T-shirts and over-priced beers in the basement. Punk cookie-cutters decorated its window display.

As for The Long Blondes, the band's distinctive look only partly explained why their imminent signing has caused frenzied interest, similar to the buzz that surrounded their South Yorkshire neighbours Arctic Monkeys last year. They have made their name with a succession of limited-edition nuggets of pop nous on obscure indie labels - namely Angular, Sheffield Phonographic Society and Good & Evil - set up by the influential Bloc Party producer Paul Epworth.

After spending a couple of years honing their craft and awaiting the right deal, more sets the Blondes apart from Arctic Monkeys than their pimp-my-librarian dress sense. The band's members are in their mid-twenties, veterans compared to their teenage peers. No wonder they carried themselves with such assurance. A key selling point was singer Kate Jackson, rated one of the world's coolest people by NME readers. She sang with the arch style of a female Jarvis Cocker, though added the unbridled enthusiasm of an all-smiling Ronette or Shangri La.

Shame, then, her dry asides were lost in a muddy sound that also put paid to the bass and rhythm guitar. Still, the needling lines of lead player Dorian Cox cut through the morass. By far the most competent musician, he was almost as watchable as Jackson, with something of local heroes ABC's Martin Fry about him in his prominent chin and foppish fringe. It was his nagging tunes, though, that made each number distinctive, along with no-nonsense fills from drummer Screech Louder (his real name, apparently, thanks to hippy parents).

These two allowed the Blondes to cover much musical ground. "Appropriation (By Any Other Name)" was robust Au Pairs-style new wave, with Jackson laying down her sexual politics manifesto. She cut her current squeeze down to size by noticing he fancied her only because she reminded him of an ex. "Giddy Stratospheres", on the other hand, was carefree disco frenzy.

Both have been released as singles, though more unfamiliar material was just as instantly appealing. Their playful humour, and a contemporary post-feminist vibe, was all over "Weekend Without Make-Up", while Screech's Joy Division funereal timing allowed the band to stretch out on "You Could Have Both". A spoken word dialogue between Cox and Jackson again brought Pulp to mind.

Best of the bunch was last year's "Separated by Motorways", spiky, instant pop with all the snap and crackle of X Ray Spex. Jackson and rhythm guitarist Emma Chaplin transposed Thelma and Louise to the A1. "Two lonely girls go on the run" they squealed with delight. You could imagine them writing their own road movie that took in a tour of charity shops between St Neots and Doncaster.

Until that moment, Chaplin and the bass-player Reenie Delaney had been anonymous. To judge from the former's baffled gaze at her fretboard, you wondered if the disastrous sound hid deeper issues for the band. Given the exposure groups enjoy these days, there is no place to hide dead weights.

After the laddish Britpop revival, 2006 ought to see tastes swing towards a more feminine input. Jackson and friends are well placed to benefit as they push beyond mere tokenism to provide an idiosyncratic look and original voice.