The hardest records to review are the ones that really don’t leave any sort of imprint on my temporal lobe. It’s not that these said records are complete garbage, it’s more that they end up on the mundane end of the aural spectrum. Blank Dogs‘ new record Under and Under picked at my senses for a couple of hours, always seemingly on the verge of a breakthrough. The one man show Mr. Blank Dog, simply couldn’t reach that highly sought after tier of captivation. Maybe it’s time for a Q-Tip, Norwood.
Little is known about the band’s only member “Mr. Blank Dog” who has probably put out more records than Zappa in four years earning him a significant amount of attention as of late, and a cozy spot on In The Red records. But then again what Brooklyn artist isn’t getting attention these days? Blank Dogs is trying to be The Residents of the 21st century, providing virtually no information about the identities of Mr. Blank Dog and his many musical patrons. This enigmatic caricature of a dude conceals himself at shows, which after listening to his music doesn’t really surprise me given this record’s uncanny feel.
Like I said, Under and Under is frustrating. It’s like the video game they play in South Park where they try to catch the Magic Dragon by shooting heroin as fuel to keep them going. No matter how close anyone ever gets to the dragon, they never catch it. There are moments on Under and Under when I think that I’ve got the dragon cornered, ready to embrace Blank Dogs’ genius, but that climactic sense of appreciation never really shines.
You can’t expect every record that comes along to “catch the dragon,” however Under and Under comes close at times. Mr. Blank Dog seems to be well versed in the art of subtle pop hooks which sound awesome buried under a bit of dissonant, lo-fi instrumentation. There are songs like “L Machine” that convince me that Ian Curtis is still alive, well and singing on this record. To take it a step further, some of the guitar and that feeling of hauntingly unfamiliar familiarity (get it?) is strikingly similar to that of Joy Division (especially on “Open Shut”). The poppy dissonance also reminded me a bit of Pere Ubu, as well as early Fall records. Blank Dogs show off their sensitive, fragile side as well on tracks like “Tin Birds” which sounds a lot like a sped up Cure song recorded on a four track.
But then the shit hits the fan. What is up with the unnecessary keyboard/synth? It reminds me too much of those 8-bit Nintendo samples that Crystal Castles use, and I really can’t tolerate any more of that nonsense. The intro of “L Machine” begins with the most ridiculously boring three note keyboard line I’ve heard in a while. Its details like this that Mr. Blank Dog should consider paying more attention to. He’s already managed to strike an interesting conceptual chord in his music, now with a bit of refinement his next release could be something to keep in the walkman.
Fagen-Becker Quality Rating
Under and Under will be available on May 26th via In The Red records.