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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New: Blank Realm – River of Longing

It’s a dark, dark day when the news of fresh Blank Realm goes right underneath my all-encompassing gaze. I mean, fuck, these guys are incredible, and other people (OTHER. PEOPLE.) have been pumping fists to the latest from Blank Realm’s wondrous skulls.

Lawrence English of the forever intriguing Room40 label has taken over production for Blank Realm’s first album made in a studio, which seems like a really smart tradeoff. You give a little by stepping away from the DIY recording, and going into a studio, but you keep it weird by enlisting by one of the smartest guys who’s got a knack for moulding freaky sounds.

But let’s focus on the stars here – Blank Realm. All their albums have been fantastic, and “River of Longing” shows the band are looking to maintain that consistence. Sprawled out over four queasy pop minutes, Blank Realm begin with a jugular splicer of a post-punk chord, and then moves into the slanted, jangly bittersweet serenading that has marked their previous music so distinctly. After a swooning chorus that will dry out your tear ducts, Blank Realm unleash their hidden secret of jamming as much glazed noise into as crammed a pace as possible, and ramming all that colourful clammer into a dizzying finale.

Gig Review: Blank Realm

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Saturday, 24th January @ The Famous Spiegeltent

Fuck, there is nothing better than bedtime. 9pm swings around, and it’s time to hit the fucking sack. None of this grinding on a stranger until the sun rises its disapproving face. But Blank Realm, well, they’ve got that pull. There’s something about a band releasing the best album of 2014that makes this old miser want to shun his principles, and watch the shit out of a band that’s better than a Kevin Spacey marathon.

Midnight steamrolls the 24th into the 25th, but all yawns are suppressed as Blank Realm hit the stage of the intimate circus tent that is the Famous Spiegeltent. There doesn’t seem to be all that many people in attendance, maybe 100, but the atmosphere is one of complete adoration. Mottled lights sway across the stage as more stage fog sweeps forth than a production from the Royal Shakespeare Company. But the opening splashes of “Bulldozer Love” are enough to choke back the smoke, and light a grin up on every face.

There’s a very good reason why Blank Realm are considered the best live band in Australia, and, simply put, it’s because they are. Only a mere hour after watching TV Colours ruin my eardrums and bring me a gag reflex away from throwing up upon an unsuspecting crowd, Blank Realm still had the ability to astonish. A perfect storm of energetic, authentic and original made looking away from the stage a crime against humanity.

Relatively speaking, Blank Realm didn’t play too many songs over their hour-plus set, only about nine or so. But they made each note count, hammering every item with purpose and poise, and added special parts that those in attendance will most likely remember as being the frenzied finales that butts wouldn’t stop shaking to.

Musically, the band is spot on, despite some technical difficulties with Sarah Spencer’s keytar, which she thoroughly made up for by jumping around more than a 12 year old trying their first pinga. Watching Blank Realm on stage, it becomes obvious how different, yet essential to the final product, the band members truly are. The aforementioned Sarah Spencer is youthful energy incarnate, irrepressible in her mission of bouncing higher than any pogostick. Daniel Spencer (somehow) manages to turn his drums into a white-hot flurry, whilst also singing that beautiful yearning voice of his, which I’ve determined as something like Elvis on Quaaludes. Bassist Luke Spencer tries to mirror the effect of a mirage, twirling and twisting indefinitely whilst laying down some of the thickest and grooviest bass lines since Barry White was a sex god. And Luke Walsh became everybody’s new favourite guitarist, diversifying from crunchy Metallica riffs on an unnamed new song, to fluorescently depressed strums on “Baby I Can’t Reach You On The Phone”.

The neon aspects of Blank Realm’s music march to the forefront during their live performance. Sure, the onslaught of mottled lights that shrouded the band in a mixture of hazy purples, greens, reds and blues (much like their excellent “Baby…” video) helped, but the brighter-than-bright pop was somehow accentuated. It’s hard to think of a specific reason, but whilst Sydney slept, Blank Realm shone.

Another fantastic aspect of the show is Blank Realm’s ability to manoeuvre your emotions like you’re a Candy Crush jelly. The audience is stretched into glorious dancing territory during “Back To The Flood”, and a bonafide congo-line is formed multiple times. And then, somehow, they can transition into eyes-closed hurt, like the singed “Cleaning Up My Mess” or swagger-centric “Go Easy”. But the one mainstay of their performance is the ability to always keep an audience elated and transfixed – no matter the subject material, lucky attendees are ecstatic.

As the howls died down, and Blank Realm humbly moved on from the stage, it’s plain to see that, even though sleep deprivation is slowly killing me inside, these Brissy heroes had clearly moved everyone present. A fantastic set from a legendary band. Long live Blank Realm!

Amazing Aussie Videos: Love of Diagrams + Superstar + Exhuastion + Darren Sylvester

Audio visual delights for dayzzzzz….

Love of Diagrams – Double Negative

On what is sure to become the bane of all Drivers Ed teachers out there, “Double Negative” is an exciting and turbulent re-visitation to another edition of ‘Oz’s Most Underrated’. Sliding in next to Harold Holt’s disappearance (why don’t more people give a shit about that?) Love of Diagrams have a furious belter that feels like it needs to be strapped down. Now, it’s accompanied by a pearler of a video, where contrast is king. Black-and-white footage of a band in the forest? Thrashing guitars smothered in red? Bold fonts? You had me at “Red Means Go”.

Superstar – Folding Gold 

Another amazing artist on the Bedroom Suck roster, Superstar return from their amazing debut LP with a video ‘n’ song combo for a track called “Folding Gold”. Portishead-esque vocals mingle amongst sparkling guitars, and forlorn snap, crackle, and pop drum machines. And the video is simply too gorgeous to look away from, an indie piece of art if there ever was one. It feels like watching a Cannes Film Festival finalist, and it’s a shame it only goes for five minutes.

Exhuastion – Pure Duty

In what amounts to the Aarght! Records version of the Blair Witch Project, Exhuastion unleash their morbid noise upon the world once again with a kind of funeral procession of executioner-style guitars. Flashing images of grisly, badly-lit black and whites of random parts of a suburban hole makes for pretty much the scariest horror film a young boy could ask for. Forget your George Romero jizzfest, it’s your “Pure Duty” to watch and enjoy the new stuff from Exhuastion! You see what I did there? Huh? Huh? I hate myself.

Darren Sylvester – Fresh Face

‘Off By Heart’ was a highly underrated record from last year, and I blame myself for not getting around it with the speed that it deserved. It’s nu-romantic perfection, a genuine love letter to New Wave, and the video for “Fresh Face” accentuates that authenticity to an extent that would have David Byrne blushing.

Born from a “Chapter Karoake” session (the machine also features cuts from Jonny Telafone, Dick Diver and Primitive Calculators), healthy dance-floor action ensues, the kind that was bred from repeat viewings of Boogie Nights. Daz’s croon rings through, shimmering guitars pulsating wilfully, and sensuality hits its peak. An orgasm is basically par for the course.

New: Love of Diagrams – Eyes

Fuuuuuuck, it has been a long time between beers for Love of Diagrams. In fact, their last album ‘Nowhere Forever’ was out in 2009! That’s five burger-flippin’ years since the collective community has had any LOD material to cry themselves to sleep on a Saturday night to. What I’m trying to say is that it’s been far too long.

Luckily, their new one “Eyes” is exactly what we’ve been wanting, and even a little bit more. It’s a transcendent track, packed with reverb, duelling, ghostly vocals, and the slow build of gratingly beautiful music floats itself into a far too short 4 minute run time. But the ecstasy that is wrung from this MBV-meets-Melbourne band…it’s enough to satisfy your average coward puncher’s night in King’s Cross. Simply and utterly stunning.

Love of Diagrams will be coming out of hibernation for an ultimate party time, headlining Bedroom Suck Record’s fifth (!) birthday party shenanigans. The rest of the lineup features GLOSS (ex-Circle Pit), Terrible Truths, Martyr Privates, and Superstar! It all goes down at Goodgod, on Freeday 7 November. SHLICK!

New: Terrible Truths-Lift Weights

I wanted to post this a couple days ago, but my Internet’s been fucked, so my yearning to hear the revamped Terrible Truths track went unacquainted. UNTIL NOW! Worth the wait? You fuckin’ betcha!

Terrible Truths have got members all over Australia, so its a wonder that they’ve managed to get together and record an upcoming LP, to be released through the always reliable Bedroom Suck Records. Some keener peeps might even recognise that ‘Lift Weights’ has actually already been released on a 7″ a while back, but this is a re-vamped version. A little more frantic, a little more purpose and stride, ‘Lift Weights’ showcases that one of ‘Straya’s finest purveyors of indie-rock/post-punk are gearing up to release what’s guaranteed to be one hell of an album.

Video(s): Lower Plenty + Orlando Furious + Roland Tings

Sure, you don’t have the mullet of Al Monfort, or the bleak majesty of Orlando Furious, or the electronic chops of Roland Tings. But you do have these videos:

Lower Plenty-Life/Thrills

The title track from Lower Plenty’s sophomore album is the standout, a yearning heart-tugger if ever there was one. ‘Life/Trills’ makes you want to curl up and regret every decision you’ve ever made, regardless of the negative or positive connotations. The way the lyrics are delivered are pangs of guilt in audio formation, ensuring the tears march out on time. Forget about those salad days, boys, they’re gone forever!

That’s not exactly the sentiments delivered in the clip, which is one of the most heartwarming stories of the decade. Three Aussie-as-a-kangaroo’s-balls mates get caught in the crossfire…of love. However, through the power of Melbourne Bitter, which has the same strength as TEN GREYSKULLS (!), old mate is raised from the tomb and the three best friends carry on to the park with sputtering beers in hand, and more shit-eating grins than a diarrhoea fetish party.

Now that, my friends, is how you make a goddamn music video.

Orlando Furious-Fresh

Phre$h is the word that comes to mind when describing Melbourne’s Orlanda Furious. So they made a song and a clip about it, featuring the Phre$hest dog gamn tights/swag chaing combo this world has ever seen. What starts with some convulsions on a junkie mattress turns into King Swag, a purple-suited audiophile pimp, who changes the way our young protagnist looks and feels about the world: Str8 gangsta. If that doesn’t make any sense to you, just watch the clip

Roland Tings-Floating On A Salt Lake

MMMMM new Rolan Tings. Finally, some electronic music that doesn’t assualt your ears with jumping ADHD trap or bring your faith in humanity crashing to the ground with some dick-measuring mashup of sounds that were never meant to go together for a reason.

Roland Tings is here with the smoothest electronic beats, providing six minutes of blissed out atmosphere. He really is a child of Jon Hopkins, breathing air with his minimalistic approach, learning that less is more. Watching the man work on his lonesome in this video makes you appreciate how well he makes his music dance, the subtleness taking full flight. Every time you listen to this Roland Tings song, a DJ Snake fan dies 🙂

New Aus Music: Charles Buddy Daaboul + Lucy Cliche + Rat Columns + Martyr Privates + North Arm

Ahhh, old mate ‘Straya. Sun is shining, birds are chirping, crocs are snapping the limbs off wayward tourists. Just another day in our sunburnt country. No better way to enjoy it that with some quality chunes.

Charles Buddy Daaboul-Toohey’s New

If anyone can ever recite the opening monologue to this song word for word, I will straight up submit myself to them for the rest of my life. Although I’m a Resch’s man myself (I use the term ‘man’ incredibly loosely), this ode to Australia’s second greatest beer, and by that extension, past-time, is damn glorious. Set with a glazed guitar line, and some clucking percussion, this song works so well in its simplicity. Goddamn, the way that this man wrings the blues from his guitar will never cease to amaze me.

Lucy Cliche-Shallow Shadow

When the new single from Lucy Cliche starts, sounding like a submarine being birthed into deep space by a pregnant Roland, you just fucking know it’s going to be an absolutely killer tune. Dark, robotic terror gets rained down in electronic shards, more or less disintegrating the listener with sheer glare. If this song were a potion, it’d be super deadly. Like, King Cobra deadly. That’s like, the deadliest you can get. But seriously, this song is all kinds of amazing, and my shitty jokes aren’t doing it justice.

Also, Lucy Cliche is playing support this Friday for Lace Curtain at Good God…woah. That’s going to be insane.

Rat Columns-Another Day

Out of the doom and gloom comes Rat Columns. David West is one part of the aforementioned Lace Curtain (!), and he’s also a mighty contributor to the jaw-droppingly good Total Control. On top of that, his solo project takes its queues from neither of those. Rat Columns is steeped in the lore of guitar pop, both of the Flying Nun and Matador origins. Recite that back to yourself in a David Attenborough voice, and tell me I don’t write like a goddamn scientist. I dare thee!

Anyway, new track ‘Another Day’ is like if Elliot Smith had a good day. Very tranquil and kind of delicate, but slowly building towards a strong pop aesthetic that bands like The Stevens and Dick Diver contain when they’re at their best.

Lace Curtain are playing this Friday at Good God (LA DE FUCKING DA, THAT’S OLD NEWS) and Rat Columns are going to be appearing at the jizz-tastic R.I.P Society 5th Birthday Party at the Opera House this Saturday, along with every other good band ever (Housewives, Woollen Kits, Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys, FUCKING FEEDTIME)

Martyr Privates-Something to Sell

You can’t get more lackadaisical than a Martyr Privates track. This new one of theirs is no exception, featuring a drawl that’d put Mick Molloy to shame. It’s a guttural, rotten toothed, gum-infected ode to fucking up relationships, and holy shit is that applicable to a lot of people. Pretty similar escapades going on here as the aforementioned BWBB and Woollen Kits, the drawl and fuzz-centric guitar cocoon are what make this song a good fucking listen. I’d give the track 3 thumbs up if I were a mutant.

North Arm-Hollow Days

I’ve got a pretty killer headache right now, probably because Metallica’s ‘Kill ‘Em All’ has been ringing in my ears all day. But North Arm’s ‘Hollow Days’ searches to rectify that, or at least, ensure that the pain subsides to a somewhat endurable level. ‘Holloy Days’ is very beautiful, which is to be expected from an ex-Firekites member. It’s pretty enchanting stuff, and the fact that it helped the kraken-awakening headache mellow to gentle-kick-in-the-temple is mighty reassuring.

 

 

New Aus Music: Clag + Vacant Field + Postblue + Okay Cocaine + Barbiturates + Multiple Man

This one time I went to the cricket. I hated it. So instead, I expended all my Australian-ness into spreading the word about awesome Aussie bands. Queue dramatic music and Oscars acceptance speech. I’m a fucking hero.

Clag-Twozza

First up, it’s old mates Clag. And I do mean old mate. These guys were around in the 90’s, then they broke up, and went on to really good things like Beaches and Panel of Judges. I want to say greater, but really, there isn’t anything like Clag.

Case in point-the irreverant indie-pop of ‘Twozza’. How many bands do you know named after a popular form of glue that write songs about the salad days? There’s the name checking of puking in the bong, knowing absolutely fuck all about brushing girls hair and wearing shorts, all set to a delightful keyboard riff and slacker guitar that could’ve been taken from an episode of Fraggle Rock.

Vacant Field-Run Down

Speaking of absolutely delightful bands, here’s Sydney’s Vacant Field. I played the shit out of them on FBi a few weeks back, and wanted to give them a pleasant thrashing on here as well, but there was no Soundcloud! That’s been recently rectified, and the song ‘Run Down’ is now in the public eye for all to fawn over. It’s a beautiful thing, that’s simultaneously open and intimate. If you could get the innocence that Randy Newman has on the Toy Story soundtrack, and collide it headlong with the forlorn of a Smiths track, then you’d have the gorgeous ‘Run Down’. Absolutely stunning.

Postblue-Ugly

There is so much about this song to love. First of all, it’s on Poison City City Records, the go-to label in Australia for punk tunes with a dirty pop edge (see: The Smith Street Band, Clowns). Secondly, ‘Ugly’ is a finely crafted tune-from the straight forward guitars, to the emo-laden chorus, the whole thing reeks of something that Screamfeeder would’ve released back in the day. And thirdly, it’s a cocktease. The song is more in-an-out orgasm than a guy losing his virginity to Amy Adams. Spectacularly good.

Okay Cocaine-7 Hours

Okay Cocaine are a band I’ve been meaning to see for the past couple weeks, because a) amazing name, obviously and b) they’re getting stuck on these awesome lineups, so awesome by association right. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to check them out in a live setting, but their music is fucking rad. It’s an amateur, balls-out, keeling-n-kicking punk rock that never lets up for a second. It whirls, wheeling and dealing like a pimp with a death wish. Seriously, ‘7 Hours’ is more high octane than an hour with Nicholas Cage. Get amongst it.

Barbiturates-BOSS

Barbiturates have always been consistenly interesting to listen to, a strong inclusion in the list of really, really weird Brisbane bands that never fail to please (others being Cobwebbs, Per Purpose Gazar Strips, Brainbeau…it goes on). On their latest release, the aptly titled ‘BOSS’, the listener gets plunged head first into all the musical terrains one could hope for. There’s the rainbow kaleidoscope forest of ‘Woods Pt 1’, the crunchy gravel driveway of its successor, the ghoulish Rocky Horror dread of ‘Oxygen Free’ and the disturbed oceanic patterns of ‘Leech’. And that’s only naming a few. Really, Barbiturates spread themselves around everywhere on ‘BOSS’, with an effectively schizophrenic and perturbed desire. The album is amazingly riveting, so I dunno what you’re doing still reading this and not buying it.

Multiple Man-Guilt Culture

Speaking of Brisbane bands that are fantastically weird, here’s a new one from Multiple Man. And boy, is it a fucked up piece of music. It has an S&M sheen, murky and slithering in nature, never popping it’s head out of the muck just in case you might think for a second that there’s some beauty underneath. ‘Guilt Culture’ is subtly vicious, featuring a snaky synth line and flesh-crawling lyrics that would give Wes Craven a boner in no time. Awesome!

Video: Blank Realm-Reach You On The Phone

One of the hardest moral and logistical decisions I’ve ever had to make was whether I go to Blank Realm or Palms & the Gooch Palms this past Friday night. Now, although I don’t regret going to Palmarama (it was one of the sickest shows of recent memory) watching the new video for Blank Realm’s ‘Reach You On The Phone’ is making it that much harder and increasing the wish that I could clone myself.

Besides ‘Reach You On the Phone’ being crazy, awesome good, the video is probably one of the best visual experiences created. It’s like a mixture of the claymation-pop in Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ with the dark sex and lust of Q Lazzarus. If Iggy Pop and David Bowie were taking a bunch of multi-coloured vitamins only given out in mental institutions instead of the usual injected cocktail, they might’ve created something like this. The neon Deerhunter-meets-Crocodiles sound making out with hardcore Japanese karoake is the kind of stuff unforgettable videos are made of.

In all seriousness, the video for ‘Reach You On the Phone’ is something to make the DIY-pop gods proud. This shit is jaw-droppingly, eye-popping, stomach-churningly good.