Album Review: Blank Realm – Illegals In Heaven

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Today was hard. Real hard. Top 5 hardest days of my life. After twenty minutes of trying to find my Mission of Burma record, I decided to go through and re-organise my record collection by genre. An honourable task, I know – truly, I am the people’s champion. But in all seriousness, we now live in a world where the The Replacements will no longer rub shoulders with Rob Zombie (it was an ill-advised present, I swear).

The only reason I mention this, besides to gloat, is that when Blank Realm’s new album ‘Illegals in Heaven’ arrives. It’s going to be tough to slot this record into one of the newly orgnaised pigeon holes. Sure, you can throw it amongst the rock stuff, but Blank Realm are too sensitive and honest to fit in with the cock rock that dominates my shelves. New Wave? There’s too much depth to throw it next to Bronski Beat and Human league records. Punk maybe? Nah, I don’t feel like burning down the government when I hear this band. Psych? Fuck no, who do you think I am? I don’t have a fucking psych section. Jesus Christ.

Blank Realm are remarkable for their ability to glide through their albums genre-less; the only thing that can be firmly planted on them is their uncanny skill to marry sorrow and incredible musicality. Since beginning eight years ago, they’ve released a constant run of albums that dabble in gnarled noise, synth-pop, lo-fi rock, and more, peaking in last year’s masterpiece, ‘Grassed Inn’. Since releasing that, and witnessing their amazing live show many, many, many times, Blank Realm have rocketed from underground favourites to Australian legends.

Not only does ‘Illegals in Heaven’ cement that ideology, but it seals it in carbonite, Han Solo-style. Soon, Blank Realm will be frozen in a horrified pose, placed as a trophy in the lair of some overweight tycoon (hey, how you going). This album is an accomplishment of variety – shifting from dazzling drama that wouldn’t feel out of place spurting from the world’s biggest stages, all the way to chugging swings of post-punk and yearning ballads that have reached the end and can’t go on any longer. There’s a wonderful smorgasbord available here for the fussy eaters – you’re welcome to pick and choose, but it’s recommended that you just sit down and gorge yourself on the sheer variety that’s available.

In saying this, Blank Realm display a logical graduation throughout ‘Illegals…’, rising and falling with the pulse of an expert mixtape, the kind that Rob Gordon from High Fidelity would fawn over. There’s a huge difference to the sporadic and random splurges of ideas that Blank Realm brought to their earlier output. The album opens with “No Views”, a frantic and frank ode to Blank Realm’s adeptness to explode from the iTunes Library and right into your very being, before manoeuvring into the herky-jerky “River of Longing”. You can bet a million and a half bucks that shit would be The OC’s theme song if that shit was still around.

Following on from the one-two punch of riveting gonzo pop that only Blank Realm are capable of delivering, they settle into a pattern of restless anti-love songs for the rest of the record – “Palace of Love” performs Waiting For Godot in a chamber of dense synths and fluttering guitars, whilst “Costume Drama” pairs a throng of careening, buzzsaw riffs with pleasant, clipping keys. The finale of”Too Late Now” shoots daggers of despair, a six and half minute anguish override. When Daniel Spencer sighs, “It’s much too late now, for you to ever come back/ It’s much too late now, they just don’t write ’em like that”, there’s a good chance you’ll throw up a little in your mouth in harmonised hopelessness.

That excerpt is just a sample of Blank Realm’s songwriting prowess which remains as focal to their music as the instrumentation itself. Often Daniel’s lyrics and delivery cry out, and persistently resonate with anyone who’s been dragged through the muck that is having your heart torn out. There’s too much to specifically haul out and quote, so just take the word that he’s damn good at putting pen to paper, and then singing about those words. However, it’s Sarah Spencer shining on “Gold” that forces the jaw to officially drop…Holy shit! What the fucking goddamn fuck on a shit stick is this!? Is your heart in your throat? BECAUSE MY HEART IS IN MY FUCKING THROAT! It’s sitting there like I’ve swallowed a boulder. I can’t breathe, you can’t breathe, we’re just sitting here in wide-eyed silence, unable to even gasp in awe. Why? Because Sarah possesses one of the most arresting voices on this planet. It’s like Chrissie Hynde’s and Stevie Nicks’s vocal chords had a kid that moved to Brisbane. Sarah Spencer is a powerhouse, and “Gold”  stands out as one of the most potent, heart-shredding songs on an album full of them.

I mentioned before that I’m not going to have anywhere to put ‘Illegals in Heaven’. Fuck that, I’ve got just the place. A big, fuck off jewel case. This album is a monument to the best band in Australia – this record proves what Blank Realm have been ploughing away at all this time: their capacity to surprise and enthral with only music. This album has completely matched the stunning nature of ‘Grassed Inn’, a two-for-two deal of dense records packed with emotionally ruining content. After their record last year, the cracks began to show in Blank Realm’s status as a purely cult band. With ‘Illegals in Heaven’, the intention should be to burst through the wall and shake the world to its roots. That’s the only way it should be.

‘Illegals in Heaven’ is available this Friday, September 4th through Bedroom Suck Records. You can pick it up from their Bandcamp here. They’ll be playing the At First Sight Festival in Sydney on November 14, alongside My Disco, Total Giovanni, NO ZU and more. You actually can’t miss this gig – it’s imperative that you are there.

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