There are bands that play with force when they’re captured on tape, and then there are ones that are recorded in the same way you pin a writhing snake under the flat of your foot. “Back to the Flood” breaks open Grassed Inn with so much momentum that it’s virtually levitating, like barreling down a really grimy Rainbow Road. While previous Blank Realm records married with drift, Grassed Inn doesn’t waste a second on introductions, nor anything else; it pretty much has a Cert IV in kicking down your door.
Everything is fresher, wider, and more dynamic. There’s nothing here as overtly claustrophobic as “Acting Strange,” but that’s because they’ve found much richer ways of getting things across beyond turning up the volume or stretching things out. These songs are long, but deservedly so, because these are things that need to be vamped. Especially “Falling Down the Stairs,” which goes straight to the top of the tree of classic “Antipodean” guitar jams, nestled snugly among the company of “Tally Ho,” “Streets of Your Town,” “North by North,” “Death and the Maiden,” all that stuff. Daniel Spencer reels off delirious non sequiturs (“I got the low blood! I got the silver dollars!”) that congeal together into a party the same way that a bunch of blurry photos add up to a good time, and Luke Walsh’s three-chord guitar hook is irrepressible. It’s the kind of idea that someone else might junk for having been done already; Blank Realm make it impossible to imagine it could have been done otherwise.
There’s no lethargy here, despite the long runtimes, since the songs are gloriously messy, performed like they’re itching to be stretched out and thwacked into oblivion. The beginning of “Reach You on the Phone” overexcitedly slips in and out of time; “Bulldozer Love” spends nine minutes climbing (think Yo La Tengo afraid of soap); and “Bell Tower” drags along like an undone shoelace before peaking desperately, everything folding in and folding upwards, Shepard tone style. The vigor and bristle of the playing is animated by the intoxicating (and played-up) vocal interplay of Daniel and Sarah Spencer, who are pretty much the Freidbergers of yelling from a passing car. Most of the lyrics deal with one-sided and thwarted romantic dalliances (“Maybe I should leave you two alone!” Dan pants in the euphoric “Reach You on the Phone” — he definitely can’t reach her on the phone), and the meshing of Dan’s ragged and amelodic drawl (he has a way of making every sentence finish with an exclamation mark) and Sarah’s wet concrete coo bears out the darkness that used to be submerged deeper in the mix.
If “harmolodic” is a word that means anything to you — in that it definitely means something, but you can’t pin it down any better than Ornette Coleman could — it’ll be present in Sarah’s keyboards, which have greater prominence here than before. They swing and veer like a runaway shopping trolley over the racket beneath, generally feeling like they’ve been played and mixed in an adjoining room, synths set squarely between the thrift shop down the road and one on Mars. They’re some of the most tactile and strange keyboards going around: check the way the final choruses of “Falling Down the Stairs” are undercut by discordant clusters, and how the plaintive blackhearted country of “Baby Closes the Door” is rendered harsh and lonely by intermittent screams and an unnerving click, like Suicide crashing a campfire singalong.
The often-made comparison for Blank Realm is Royal Trux, but as intoxicating as the interplay between Daniel and Sarah is, Hagerty and Herrema seldom opened the curtains like Grassed Inn does from start to finish. By making concessions to clarity, Blank Realm have only amplified their inherent weirdness. As such, this thing is a fucking kick in the pants.