Listening to Blank Dogs’ Under and Under, I am inclined to point out that low fidelity is a double entendre. It refers to a willful neglect of recording quality, but also has a more cerebral connotation: a certain secrecy, and a lack of faith, if you will, to the underlying feelings and impulses of the work at hand. This shrouding tactic seems essential to the Blank Dogs' enterprise: It’s all one guy, he wears a mask in public, and he appears singularly committed to the cultivation of anonymity. The songs on this album all sound the same, and there are a lot of them. The dog, of course, is a classical symbol of fidelity. These are blank dogs.
In a former state I would have accused Mr. Blank Dogs of pandering to the cool kids, but I have mostly grown out of such facile defensiveness and have tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. Admittedly, this is some of the least vulnerable music I have ever heard -- it does for Joy Division what the elevator did for Stevie Wonder. But there is something else at play. Whereas someone like Johnny Rotten could be criticized for using nihilism as a prop for his ego, this man seems genuinely in pursuit an amoral, identity-negative universe. It’s poetic, really. And if he is just isolating some current of detached urban hipness, then he’s doing a great job. As if to say: I feel nothing and I have a graphic on my shirt.
There is no best track here. The slow jam is called “Slowing Down.” I was not once surprised during the course of my consideration, but pay attention to “No Compass” at 2:23 and “Falling Back” at 1:40: virtually identical and almost unconsciously so, like a metaphor buried deep in the writerly imagination/parody of early-‘80s post-punk.
The obvious reference points are in full effect: Ian Curtis, the Cure, Kiwi pop, contemporary Brooklyn lo-fi revival stuff. Junky keyboard drones, sheet-metal guitars, and clinky transistor radio drums abound. Blank Dogs’ Zen-like commitment to a particular palate is the truly impressive part, a pawn-shop instrumental cousin to the ink-brushed circle.
I feel claustrophobic listening to this music, like I was knocked out and woke up only able to hear one song, and I hear it everywhere.
And here we are after considering Blank Dogs’ Under and Under, released on the In the Red label, home to the Vivian Girls, King Khan & BBQ Show, and all the other bands that have some people happy that rock 'n' roll is back and others fearful of a looming musical apocalypse. Me, I am going to put something else on.
Now this is some spooky post-punk shit. Just check out Jacqueline Castel's Ku Klux Klan-as-dance-troupe video for "Setting Fire to Your House" and you'll see what I mean. Whether you dig it or lump Brooklyn's Blank Dogs with the Wavves, Crystal Stilts, and Woods of the lo-fi underground, much of his catalog is hard to find. Don't let the plural name fool you though. Blank Dogs is the work of only one phantom. In press photos and on his Myspace, he always wears a mask or head wrap covering his face. The previously anonymous new-wave spectre recently showed his face, but his vocals are still encased in a filthy coffin at the bottom of some lake. In the Red Records' release of Under and Under is available as a 20-song double LP or a slightly eviscerated CD. JB Townsend of Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls make an appearance on the debut.