For almost two years, Blank Dogs, the anonymous one-man band credited to Mike Sniper, has been a some-wave punk machine, churning out cassette after CD-R after 7” without much rest. The recipe is rather simple: Toss a grimy old synthesizer, a guitar, and Steve Albini’s old Roland into a pot and distill the vapors. The resulting discography has been an increasingly manic bunch of catchy melodies soaked in static and distortion, each additional transmission seeming a little poppier, a little more violent.
The Fields EP on Woodsist Records abandons the frenzy that characterized previous releases, letting the pop hooks that were maligned, abused, and distorted to shine through almost unchecked. Despite the author’s best efforts, this album refuses to be ugly. The straightforward post-punk anthem “Red World” opens with what could be the lost B-side to Joy Division’s “Disorder.” Second track “Before the Hours” restates Blank Dogs’ commitment to open-mindedness, giving the melody entirely over to borderline psychedelic experimentation that recalls labelmate Meneguar’s The In Hour.
Blank Dogs still wallows in the defeat of past pessimism, but instead of striking the confrontational stance that dominated previous tracks like “Death Jumpers” and “Pieces,” The Fields just sounds exhausted. “Spinning” starts off with the slow dirge of a death march, but with the drum machine going unchallenged for the entirety of the song, it turns into a mechanical club song. Any sense of spontaneous life is smothered. The head-nodding, foot-tapping hooks and riffs from past efforts were once contorted and challenged through each track. Now, on songs like “Passing the Light,” they’re set on auto-pilot, soldiering on until they run out of gas.
Past releases pitted Joy Division’s bittersweet melodic hooks against Big Black’s snarl. The result was a chaotic, but cathartic, swirling mess. With The Fields, the tension and the terror are gone. There’s no struggle anymore, just a bleak soul unable to stop cranking out pop tunes. “All Photographs” is the final capitulation, a generic Nintendo synth line dominating the most demure throwaway track yet. It seems like this is all Blank Dogs has left, the last hurrah before Mike Sniper’s mask comes off and he unlocks the bedroom door. And with a new full-length destined for In The Red Records, I have to wonder how much more despair can possibly be left to scrape up before he gives up entirely.