Sunday, January 4, 2009

On two sides: the love and hate of the music of Blank Dogs

Even in the underground there are darlings. Some are nothing more than badly spun snowballs of hype, while others are absolutely warranting of the attention. The newest “big deal” in the murky nether regions of the music world is a hot bed of controversy as to exactly which of the above they fit under. Having an onslaught of versatile releases come out no longer than two or so years ago, Brooklyn’s one man fractured pop machine Blank Dogs is dead center in the eye of this genius/fraud storm. Name dropped and written up on blog after blog, the strings of comments below each always seem to be a heated boxing match of opinions. Only time will tell which side will ultimately win out, but here is what we do know currently:
Not much.

The entire musical project of Blank Dogs is wrapped around a core of mystery and anonymity, almost as thick as the layers of lo-fi effects that haunt the music itself. There is no definitive website for Blank Dogs. No real information on the Myspace profile. No Wikipedia entry. Nothing but third party speculation, and a lot of pictures of cloth-hooded figures. In fact, that theme seams through all of the releases as well; most of which feature layouts of masks. While I’m certain that the truth can be parsed, sifting through the misinformation would be like trying to cut out a slice of the ocean. Which may be another reason why the popularity of this music endeavor has risen to such a height.

Of course, no amount of image and reputation can make a musician truly popular if this spine is not solid: the music. Considering the divergent (and caustic!) views on this particular artist, I can only describe, and judge it from my own point of view. Quite simply, I love Blank Dogs, and absolutely fall into the category of “genius.”

But let me say that I came to Blank Dogs through the kitchen door, and not getting bumped around by photographers at the red carpet entrance. I simply saw a Blank Dogs release on the new arrivals list of the Fusetron distro, and, intrigued by the description, thought I would give it a chance. After realizing that I had definitely made the right choice, I thought I might look the group up on the internet, and well, you know what I know now…………

So, with that slight bit of objectivity, let me say that, if you come from the bed room aesthetic, or the low-fi following, or the noise scene, or even the first wave goth and new wave school, then Blank Dogs is most certainly your type of music. Murky and brittle, these records sound like a porcelain doll, coated in pop, dropped onto a cold hard tile floor. I don’t want to be another person to make this comparison, so let me say that there is a similar idea here, that I firmly believe is organic, to that of a group like Joy Division. This music is rough around the edges, slightly disjointed, and though haunting, sounds like it’s just teetering on the edge of stability.

It is agreed, even by his most ardent supporters, that out of the near fifteen releases in about two years, there are both hits and misses. But if you listen to samples across a linear timeline, you can year the sound tightening, and the pop aesthetic hiding underneath growing in strength and form. Don’t get me wrong, there are still layers upon layers of gelatin-like effects, and warble, and songs that abruptly stop with a small delay wave or two crashing onto the shore. But then, it wouldn’t really be a Blank Dogs record without this. No matter which release it may be however (for a while you could download the entire, now very hard to find, back catalogue online, of which I have three hard copies), for me personally, it’s a pretty damn near perfect symphony of synthesizers, bass, drum machine, effects of all types, just off kilter vocals, and other (literal) odds and ends. I think it all comes together in one of its finest moments on the Trouble Man release, On Two Sides. I can’t find a weak link on this chain, and I have listened to this particular album more times than I’d care to admit. You can hear bits of everything from Sonic Youth, to New Order, to, I swear, even Giorgio Moroder. I know that The Fields LP just came out on Woodist, but I think if you could only get one Blank Dogs record, it should be On Two Sides.

As for the future of Blank Dogs, I’m very curious to see how this turns out. Obviously there are more releases lined up, and people are already grabbing them up like Cabbage Patch Kids in ’85. Deciding to be contrary to all the popularity of his ambiguity, Blank Dogs has begun to play shows as an actual band. In fact, they are even slated to perform as part of this year’s absolutely amazing lineup for No Fun Fest (along side such stellar acts as: Merzbow, Sonic Youth, Bastard Noise, Grey Wolves, and Skullflower). So, while we love to raise certain artists up to the stars only to crucify them a short time later in a firestorm of backlash, I tend to believe the fate of Blank Dogs lies more in Blank Dogs themselves. Something is going to have to happen. And I’m curious to see whether he (they, it?) decides to compromise his style enough for a much more mainstream popularity, or whether it all becomes too much, and the sounds pulls further into obscurity where most people can’t reach it.

Whatever the future may hold, for the time being there is a lot of quality music here to love or hate. I hope everyone enjoys whichever camp they choose to come down in.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Upcoming on Agipunk

My connections to this Italian label notwithstanding, I have to say that they're becoming the most significant crust label in the world - without limiting themselves to just that genre. Take a look at their 2009 release schedule: vinyl reissues of classic material by Wolfpack, Deviated Instinct, Scatha, Hellbastard ("Ripper Crust" and "Hate Milita" demos), a Hellshock non-album collection double LP, a new Contrast Attitude LP (this has been on their plate for a long time, so who knows when to expect it, and it's supposed to sound a lot different than past CA records)... the list goes on. And that's on top of last year's releases by Stormcrow, Vitamin X, Uncurbed, and house bands Kontatto and Giuda. I probably won't hear everything on their '09 roster (I certainly didn't in '08), and heck, I don't even like all of the bands they're releasing. But their consistent output of solid new and classic material shouldn't go unnoticed.

In the US, reliable distributors of Agipunk include Ebullition, Havoc, and my bandmate's distro.

Thursday, January 1, 2009