Blank Realm are the weirdest pop band from Terra Nullis, and that’s simply because they don’t give a fuck. Not in the way that the usual garage bands don’t give a fuck-Blank Realm aren’t the sort to thrash around until something with a pulse rocks up to party. No, they don’t give a fuck in the sense that they’ll try anything, consequences aside.
‘Grassed Inn’ is the Brisbane group’s…second album? Fourth album? There’s so many different sources out there, I’m actually not even sure anymore. What’s important though is that the band are more focused and literate than any other releases. Usually, a Blank Realm record will have a bunch of Zombies/Big Star-ish singles, amongst a bunch of really weird shit that will either piss you off or drift by pleasantly, depending on what kind of mood you’re in. This record pretty much only features the super awesome pop stuff.
However there is still a share of feedback and improv driven experimentalism occurring throughout the album. For example, the track ‘Reach You On the Phone’ has a deceptively bright line ringing through the whole thing, a dual vocal chorus, and is catchier than a bout of crabs at a porn star convention. But listen to those lyrics! “I pretend I’m stoned and dead, just to escape that sense of dread,’… doesn’t that sting with a little bit too much truth? And that longing chorus of ‘Baby, I can’t reach you on the phone” rings out with such sincerity and loss, it’s like watching a baby penguin crying out for its mother. Hold that image in your brain, and then try not to break down in a geyser of tears.
There’s going to be similar mental reactions amongst a couple of the tracks, like ‘Baby Close the Door’ and ‘Bulldozer Love’, although the effect is more subtle as the music takes place. The former uses a harsh shrill cry every couple of seconds to remind the listener that they’re listening to some harrowing shit, and the latter is basically an eight minute build-up into MBV-lite musical textures.
Only with the big single ‘Falling Down the Stairs’ do things start to look up, at least on a surface level. This track is so bright and bouncy, with a honky key line that could’ve been ripped right from a carnival ride. And the rhythms are so infectious, you’re pretty much submerged in happiness. The chorus is shout-along worthy, and more addictive than 3am kebabs.
However, ‘Falling Down the Stairs’ is pretty much the exception to the rule. The rest of ‘Grassed Inn’ sways along, breezing by with the kind of charm that comes all to rarely. Strange, Eastern-sounding psychedelic riffs and glitches appear on ‘Violet Delivery’ and ‘Back to the Flood’ is the fastest song on the album by far, but the feeling is one of sombre resignation. It’s like the band are more focused on singing about the things that have happened and can never change, rather than having any desire to change.
What does that last sentence mean in terms of how good this album is? It means that finally, the slacker-pop bible is being filled out in an interesting, layered and original way. Blank Realm are a pop band but they write some downer stuff. Their music is about as aesthetically removed from traditional rock and pop as one can get. Every track rings with difference and authenticity. Instead of the usual ‘I got stoned today and I’m on the dole’, Blank Realm add so much more, incorporating feeling, movement, and texture. They don’t only provide the ‘What?’ factor that most bands utilise to resonate with their audience, but also the ‘Who?’, ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’. And the answers they come up with aren’t pretty in the slightest, no matter how much Blank Realm mask it with their upbeat, sonic tunes. Naive and twee as they might come off to the uninitiated, Blank Realm are at a more exploratory yet focused point in their musical careers than they ever have been, and have produced one of the most harrowingly original pop records in a long, long time.
To get amongst it, you can get a copy of ‘Grassed Inn’ at Bedroom Suck Records right here.