Think of The Shining. A deranged man wields an axe and chases a small boy through a labyrinth of snow-covered evergreen trees. The boy is saved by his own precocity: he hides his tracks, avoids destruction by retracing his own steps. His frenzied and desperate escape soon merges with its opposite: a meticulous retreat into order and safety. Blank Dogs apply an analogous strategy to their recordings and, like the boy who leaves the lunatic to die in the snow, the band never falls victim to its own chaotic tendencies.
Not to say the music isnít complex. The heavily distorted vocals sometimes work as another instrument--one of many layers of sound--but just when you think the lyrics are incidental, they take control and you hear the melody in the mumble. And while the guitar parts are often straightforward, theyíre never predictable. Same goes for the bass lines, many of which are instant classics. You swear youíve heard them before. But Blank Dogs take their innate pop sensibility in a darker direction: the hooks are there, but theyíve been buried alive. And so on. The drums beat, the keyboards swirl. Elaborate descriptions are useless. The same song could be an adventurous dancehall hit, the first song you play when you feel the blues coming on, or the kind of thing that inspires your parents to send you to a shrink. Some of the songs are really pretty. No two people will feel the same way about any given Blank Dogs track because the songs are moody in the most literal sense of the word. They remind us of why our favorite bands are so good: Because we like them.
In 2007, when a handful of Blank Dogs' songs first appeared on MySpace, the initial whispers were that it was some guy who records in his bedroom, on a four-track, nobody knows who he is. Much was made of this anonymity. Much in this case, meaning that a handful of people cared about this mystery way more than the man doing the recordings. Adding to the perceived mystique was the fact that the music was released at an alarming rate, without photographs, credits or liner notes. The band's website said they hailed from Madagascar. (Though a discerning eye could see that despite its relatively unknown status, the band's new releases were always conspicuously displayed at a record shop in Brooklyn.) Visually, the records themselves are timeless. Neither retro nor cutting edge, it's impossible to attach them to any era or genre, other than one of Blank Dogs own making. The attention to detail is absolute without being precious or contrived. The package is a perfect companion to the product: Entirely strange but somehow familiar at the same time.
Lo-fi, new wave, death pop, synth, minimal punk. To say that Blank Dogs transcend such labels is not so much false as it is pointless. The bandís DIY aesthetic and recording style might easily be misunderstood as an ethos or an aesthetic choice--at worst, a conceit. Hardly. Listening to Blank Dogs, one gets the sense that the man behind the music is sitting in a windowless room somewhere puzzling over his back catalogue. Not because he's disappointed and not because it's bad but because he failed as only an accidental genius can fail: with surprising beauty. It's as if Mr. Blank Dog himself (Ok, we can call him Mike now.) thought he wrote the perfect power-pop song but when he played back his ELO rip-off, the orchestra pit was filled with broken robots and illuminated with matches that burned into darkness as fast as he could light them.
Each Blank Dogs song is like its own planet with a distinct internal logic, landscape, and atmosphere. With their prolific output--17 records in 2 1/2 years, Blank Dogs are creating a universe, not a discography and that universe is expanding.
Complementing the fevered trail of records Blank Dogs have left on a variety of obscure labelsósome small, some smaller, most destined for seminal statusóthe band has garnered attention from bigger indies as well. Troubleman Unlimited, known for working with bands that resist easy classification (Black Dice, Glass Candy) released a Blank Dogs LP in early í08 and last fall, Woodsist Records home to Blank Dogs' cohorts Crystal Stilts, Vivian Girls, Woods, and Wavves put out a mini-LP/CD called The Fields. A double LP, "Under and Under", is forthcoming from indie giant In The Red. The most recent Blank Dogs record came out last month on Captured Tracks' brand new label that rivals Mike's creative output. (Captured Tracks was started in 2008 by some guy in Brooklyn. Few people know who he is, but his friends call him Blank Dogs.