Blank Realm Illegals in Heaven

[Fire; 2015]

Styles: DIY, post-punk, new wave, C86
Others: the Cure, Royal Trux, Sonic Youth, Welcome, Times New Viking

The freedom of youth is nothing more or less than the freedom from self, from having to choose and bind yourself to a particular identity. It’s this liberty that the Australian quartet Blank Realm celebrate and grieve on their latest album, Illegals in Heaven, reaching deep into their gift for noisy pop and tearing out nine blustery salvos to the inevitable loss of youthful possibility. Their balance of rambunctious guitar jumbles and maturely wrought jingles is the perfect encapsulation of the tension between adolescent limitlessness and senescent limitation, and even if they arguably come down a little too heavily on the side of aged sobriety, the sheer exuberance and emotional acuteness of their DIY rock is enough to perk up even the most disillusioned eternal child.

From the moment “No Views” itches out of the cage, this exuberance and vitality is in full evidence. Over sirening keyboards and serried guitar, drummer-vocalist Daniel Spencer restlessly announces, “I’ve got no views on it/ It’s just something that I do,” confirming his desire to flit excitably through life without lending much thought to his actions and without having to narrow himself on a specific purpose or objective. Accordingly, Luke Walsh’s guitars race around the song’s chorus in an uncontainable tumult of convulsions and tantrums, while Spencer blurts, “Every single day is a new morning,” repeating the band’s innocent aversion to the kind of settled life where every single day is the same morning.

However, even with its giddy sprees, Illegals in Heaven is party to an equal number of more contemplative numbers, in which the three Spencers and the single Walsh commemorate the loss of their immaturity and existential shapelessness. Hence, for every “Costume Drama” and its hail of xylophon’d fuzz, there’s a new-wavy “River of Longing” and its stream of C86 melancholia. The latter’s echoing chimes and trebly bass introduce Spencer’s rueful verses, where we’re told, “In the caverns of your mind/ You have drifted for the longest time,” implying that after the limitless potential of youth we’ve been permanently condemned to the diminishing returns of adulthood.

Similar regret and lamentations are heard in the languid “Cruel Night,” in which twangy slide guitar and drawled boy-girl duettng provide some justification for all those comparisons to Royal Trux that hound the band. During its swoons, Daniel and Sarah Spencer chorus each other’s fatalism, singing, “Baby you tell me/ Something ain’t right/ And something will never be right again/ On this cruel night, cruel night.” Compared to the joyous delirium and hopefulness of a “Palace of Love,” this song plays out as if it had been recorded at a point in the distant future, when the band will have grown old, tired, and disillusioned.

Old, tired, and disillusioned they may be, yet Illegals in Heaven sees Blank Realm affirm the necessity of maturing into something more than the abstract projection of possibility. In the jangly synth-laden centerpiece “Flowers in Mind,” Spencer warns the perennially infantile, “You can waste your day, waste your whole life/ Chasing fragments of dreams out in the night.” Even though he and the song’s benign tranquility acknowledge that turning away from these fragments often leads you to a life where “every move you make is into a corner,” he reassures the life-shy among us that, even with the disappointments and deteriorations of an engaged existence, “You can still cast your mind/ To that bouquet back in time.” As questionable a strategy for contentment this advice might be, the quartet throws its full weight behind it, ending the track with a searing burst of rock that just might convince you there’s something behind it.

This is precisely the strength of Illegals in Heaven. Even when it descends into mourning for extinguished youth with a track like the melancholic “Gold,” it picks itself up with spry conviction, not so much promising a return to acne as the capacity to appreciate both the inchoate person you once were and the more concrete individual this person became. It’s mature enough to realize that this young ball of diffuse energy was barely an individual at all, and that the older person, even with his or her weaknesses, has not only a direction in life but also a tangible identity, which in Blank Realm’s case makes the band far richer and more interesting than it was in its not-too distant past. So here’s hoping that they, as well as their meeting of sensitive jangle pop and desensitized lo-fi bluster, continue to grow older for a long time to come.

Links: Blank Realm - Fire

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