Blank Dogs - Under And Under
Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan once had a conversation about songwriting. Dylan asked Cohen how long it took him to write ‘Hallelujah’, to which Cohen replied “the best part of two years” - which clearly shocked The Bobster. Cohen retorted asking how long it took Dylan to write ‘I and I’ to which the response came “Oh, 15 minutes ..."
Mike Sniper aka Blank Dogs falls squarely into the Dylan camp. Since his arrival in 2007 he has 16 releases to his name on a variety or labels and formats. Under And Under - of which I am reviewing the CD version (the vinyl has 5 extra tracks) - is the most cohesive of his releases thus far. It’s a solid body of work and provides an excellent starting point for anyone looking to dip their toe into the Blank Dogs ocean.
Sniper hails from Brooklyn, records everything in his bedroom and to my knowledge his face has never been seen. Any photographs of him have his features obscured by blankets, scarves or masks.
Under and Under traverses a largely sinister, synth-heavy landscape with guitar work not dissimilar to Bernard Sumner, in both his New Order and Joy Division guises. Vocals are clinical and robotic but not without melody or tone. Sonically it can veer toward noise or industrial rhythms but never to the point of pure white noise. Distortion has a large part to play in this exquisitely produced record and it’s abundantly clear that words 'crisp' or 'radio friendly' were never on the ‘to do’ list.
If, like me, you have an ex-partner locked in the basement that you are wanting to torture in sickening and gratuitous ways ['Hello, is that Scotland Yard?' - Ed] but have never managed to find quite the right soundtrack to set the mood I think this may be your lucky day. ‘Setting Fire To Your House’ or ‘Blue Lights’ should be just the ticket, providing an unsettling backdrop as you pirouette around in your mother's wedding dress with the garden sheers.
Some of the background noises are truly bizarre, ‘Books’ deserves a mention for a sound that I can only draw comparison with a 'space noise hose', a toy I had as a child that you cupped one end over your mouth and made strange noises whilst spinning the other end around, making you resemble a trooper from an Orwellian nightmare and sound like an owl trapped in a tumble dryer. It’s a sound I’m pleased to see returning.
No doubt in the time it’s taken me to write this review he’s released 5 more cassettes full of material. But if you have an interest in dark synth pop this is certainly an album that will have you panting, tongue out and tail wagging.