Blank Dogs Land and Fixed

[Captured Tracks; 2010]

Styles: cold wave, new wave
Others: The Cure, Joy Division, Weekend

It takes a lot of intellectual gymnastics to explain why it’s okay for us care about an artist like Mike Sniper’s Blank Dogs when their work is so unrepentantly derivative. One writer explained that the facelessness of the music is a result of “nervous tension and a project whose first goal is self-effacement” (Dusted) and another claimed that Sniper makes use of post-punk’s “bittersweet melodies, but muddies them to oblivion, pulling them back closer to the raw emotional punch of punk” (Pitchfork). Each writer presents a thought-provoking analysis, but I can’t help but feel like they’re grappling for some way to justify liking the band even though most distinctive elements of Blank Dogs songs have been lifted from other sources.

So I’m calling Mike Sniper out. His art is in large part forgery, but damn if it isn’t a mighty fine forgery. 2009’s Under and Under played host to some decadently dreary masterstrokes, like the frantic, queasy “Setting Fire to Your House” or the surprisingly poppy “Open and Shut.” Like some kind of musical flatworm, Sniper was able to devour the remains of your favorite cold/dark/new wave icons, absorb their essences, and create new compositions that credibly reproduced their textures.

Land and Fixed sounds like a natural progression from Under, although the Joy Division influence is slightly downplayed in favor of a heavier dose of The Cure. Notably, the production on this album is a lot cleaner. Sniper still layers his vocals waist-deep, but you won’t have to cipher out his lyrics through a metallic haze this time around. There’s a warmth and vibrancy to the electronics on songs like “Out the Door” and “Insides” that push this set closer to the more straightforward incarnations of new wave.

While none of these factors are detriments in and of themselves, there’s an overall lackluster quality to the material here. Land and Fixed suffers from a dearth of arresting moments, and the songs that do stand out typically only do so by directly aping well-worn standards. “All Around” refits the melody of The Cure’s “In Between Days” for its chorus, and album closer “Treelines” marries the atmosphere of Primitive Radio Gods’ “Standing Outside a Broken Telephone Booth…” with a fairly direct quote of Blondie’s “Dreaming.” The song that holds up the best on its own terms is “Languages.” Sniper injects a shot of pure punk into the chorus that, for a moment at least, shakes some life into things.

But perhaps I’m not giving the man enough credit. Blank Dogs’ evolution, after all, mirrors pretty consistently one of the paths that punk forked off onto from the late 70s onward, traveling from the project’s chaotic formative years, through the pensive post-punk gloom displayed on Under and Under and The Fields, and at last coming to rest upon new wave’s glitzy sheen. At this rate, how odd would it be if the next album sounded like A-Ha?

Links: Blank Dogs - Captured Tracks

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