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.