Rating: 8.5 / Format: CD/LP / Label: In The Red
A while ago, someone told me they wanted to check out Blank Dogs, after I said that ‘Tin Bird’, a track from his latest album, Under and Under, was better than anything released in the 60s. That was in our last print issue, and it was obviously a joke (half borne from my losing my copy of the album half way through writing the review, and not really remembering any other tracks), but even removed from my bullshit, Under and Under is something special.
For those who don’t know, Blank Dogs is one person, who doesn’t get photographed in much that isn’t a pillowcase or a mummy outfit. I dunno if you see his face when he plays live; it doesn’t matter really. He’s been putting out music for a while, in the form of free downloads on his now-defunct blog, and limited cassette, vinyl and CD-R releases on labels like Fuck It Tapes and Captured Tracks. Oh, and his first album, On Two Sides, came out on Italians Do It Better boss Mike Simonetti’s Troubleman Unlimited. Basically he’s scored a shitload of cool points building up to this release, and ensured that it’s gonna be his biggest to date.
Good thing it’s brilliant then – if hard to talk about. Under and Under is fifteen great pop songs, weighed down in dense fuzz, recorded with slack chords and slacker percussion. What more do you say? It’s a formula that’s worked for generations, from The Wipers, to Guided by Voices, to Ariel Pink, and when it’s done by someone with the sort of abundant song-writing talent that Blank Dogs clearly possesses, there’s nothing better. Like the best albums of this ilk – Guided by Voices’ Bee Thousand, Jay Reatard’s singles collections – there’s that overarching impression that these tracks are knocked off; casual moments of almost-genius, and ultimately none of this lo-fi malarkey affects the quality: it just affects whether you sound closer to Pavement or The Beatles.
What’s great about Under and Under though (and it’s also true about Merriweather Post Pavilion, albeit in a different way), is that although there’s obviously nothing new about it, it’s also incredibly of the zeitgeist; like the accumulation of the last few years’ hipster obsession with this vague three-way axis between the art-school musicians of Baltimore, Brooklyn and Los Angeles. Because for all the greatness of High Places, No Age, the Death Set et al (I’m kind of ruling out the likes of Gang Gang Dance and Animal Collective who’ve been well-known for ages), I don’t think any of them have made a record this good yet. From the queasy chords of ‘No Compass’, to the Cure-in-space wobble of ‘Falling Back’, to the John Carpenter-indebted wonk of ‘Face Watching’, to the blistering, still-amazing-after-100-plays ‘Tin Bird’, it’s just all quality. If Ariel Pink had played it straight for an entire LP, he’d have probably made something like this. And that basically equals perfect music.