Sunday, 18 January 2009

Fear of a Blank Planet


I received this album as a Christmas present and it’s taken me a couple of weeks to get my head round it. It had been recommended by a friend who said I would like it, and I can’t decide whether that means this particular friend knows my music tastes inside out or just regards me as warped enough to enjoy this sort of thing…

I can’t give you much background info on Blank Dogs. From the little snippets I’ve managed to find, it seems to be the work of just one man, but I don’t know his name or what he looks like. He doesn’t reveal his identity on his webpage or in the credits of the album, and he covers his face with scarves and blankets in publicity photos. I think he may be American, as the only tour dates I’ve seen listed are in the US.

The sound is also difficult to pin down. Before I’ve actually played the album, I’m already thinking of The Residents, another act who keep their true identities hidden, but this turns out to be a physical rather than musical similarity as Blank Dogs sound much darker than The Residents’ high-pitched cartoon vocals. A more accurate comparison would be the late-1970s work of This Heat, with perhaps a hint of Swell Maps. Most of the songs also contain a vintage synth sound that could have come from The Cure’s darkest albums, “Pornography”, “Faith” and “Seventeen Seconds”. However, “On Two Sides” could not by any stretch of the imagination be described as a “goth” record. By the second or third play, it becomes apparent that there are catchy melodies buried beneath the fuzzy layers of distortion; I even found myself humming some of the tunes a few hours later. The contradiction between the initial bleak atmosphere and what could almost be described as pop songs can be very disorientating.

I have no idea what the songs are about, as the lyrics are impossible to make out, but there is a general air of paranoia and claustrophobia, despite the underlying pop melodies. Following on from my recent review of July Skies, this album also has a psychogeographic feel. But in contrast to July Skies’ depictions of outdoor environments, Blank Dogs remind me of being trapped in an enclosed space. The music also puts me in mind of the confusion I sometimes feel when I find myself in a new physical environment; as many of you will know, I have problems with spatial awareness and navigating around three-dimensional space, and the disorientating sound of this album seems to reflect that problem perfectly.

Part of me would like to know what he is actually singing about, but I suspect Mr Blank Dog probably wants to keep the lyrics secret along with his identity. If you’re not already totally confused by my conflicting descriptions of his music, you can experience the wonderful and frightening world of Blank Dogs at his MySpace page where he regularly makes new songs available.

No comments: