Blank Dogs - "Setting Fire to Your House" (Under and Under)
Perhaps the last thing left to do, smelling egocentric musical overload, is hide your identity. It’s probably a little coy, and it’s definitely been done. But if you wanted to sell some records – or just not get pigeonholed – based on the connotations of your address, would you rather be from the L Train or nowhere? If you wanted to make a reasonably original record and not have it explained away as yet another product of a(n overilluminated) time and place, it might be wise to stay in the shadows, or just make some shit up.
So, ahem, the two elderly Panamanian women who record and perform as Blank Dogs – known, respectively, as “Blank” and “Dogs” – have really got something for you here. Under and Under is one of those records that sounds way bigger than it is; a medium-tempo, 4-tracky melodic rock affair, when you get down to it, with evil overdubs but a good heart. The instrumentation isn’t complicated, but guitar, bass, organ and drums can sound plenty thick when they’re all going full-bore, as they are here. Variously metallic and sub-aqueous vocals lend earnestness to the sheets of fuzz, even when the words are totally inaudible. Almost every track is predicated on a hook, or several hooks, tempered by a dark note or the sound of broken glass – a mixture of pleasure and omen, the latter augmenting the former by denying its full expression.
Post-punk, in its initial heyday, was often an exercise in mourning one’s own humanity. Against the Big Rock Records of the ’70s, all sweat and saliva, bands from suffering factory towns put electronic drums just a little too high in the mix, and let effects wash over their voices. You could seek fleshly pleasures, they seemed to say, but never without the reminder that the world was, slowly but surely, becoming an electronic wasteland all around you. A post-punk revival, if such a thing is happening, is not about virtuosity, the death of the inner city, or even playing with instruments that didn’t exist a decade earlier. It’s a way of creatively downplaying genre and place (say, for example, psych/Brooklyn), which are the basic tokens of modern-day egocentric rock. You can seek fleshly pleasures, but never without the reminder that every cool neighborhood eventually gets dull.
Under and Under sounds exactly like it aspires to be from nowhere and by no one. It’s deliberately orbits around no central point. There are moments that sound eerily similar to the Police, others that are pretty straight Joy Division, and still others indebted to contemporary egophobes like Ariel Pink. It has, at its best, a kind of diffuse tenderness delivered with direct thrust by instruments that seem to be struggling to get along. The melodies are often big, but they rarely stick with you after the song is over, having been overcome by nervous tension and a project whose first goal is self-effacement.