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Intermingling infectious avant-pop with mesmerising psychedelic rock Brisbane quartet Blank Realm continue to deliver unique and excellent tracks on latest LP Illegals In Heaven.
Inspired by avant-garde pop acts Can, The Feelies and The Velvet Underground as well as a general love for energetic and spontaneous music, Blank Realm formed in the Brisbane suburb of Westlake in 2005.
Comprised of siblings Daniel Spencer, Sarah Spencer and Luke Spencer as well as close friend Luke Walsh the controlled chaos of the group’s formidable live act has earned them a large following within the Australian underground music scene. After some more experimental releases, the dense psychedelia of 2010’s Deja What?, the underground tropicana of 2012’s Go Easy and deft song-craft of 2014’s Grassed In solidified the band’s cult status and attracted international acclaim.
Always ones to push boundaries and defy genre, Brisbane four-piece Blank Realm return with Illegals In Heaven, arguably their best album to date.
With a growing profile the Brisbane locals have previously embarked on US and UK tours as well as played international festivals South by Southwest and Glastonbury. 2015 was another busy year for the band. In addition to working on their latest LP the group have also played Sydney Festival, made a surprise appearance at Mona’s Dark Mofo festival and are currently gearing up for a European tour in September .
Bucking against the norm Blank Realm reject repetition in their live sets, instead creating mutant jams which often spill over the edge of structured music. This incapability of playing the same song twice means that the group’s live sets often begin with a few songs that may resemble previous recordings but quickly evolve into their own improvisational jams. The band’s penchant for free rock makes their albums an interesting prospect. Oscillating between looser jams like Bulldozer Love and the infectious pop of tracks like Reach You on The Phone the group’s LPs reflect the same shambolic cohesion which defines their live act.
Kicking off with the chugging proto-punk rhythm, first track No Views on it’s white noise synth hails back to the group’s early flirtations with noise rock. A fevered love song with dark allusions to the afterlife second track River of Longing shines through as one of the strongest tracks on the LP. Evocative of the The Go-Betweens’ Was There Anything I Could Do? the track fuses catchy pop melodies and stygian guitar riffs to great effect. Even considering the group’s reputation for spinning delirious jams and random musical ideas into pop tracks they have yet again outdone themselves in finding the illusive middle ground between mind-bendingly awesome jam and catchy pop track.
Cruel Night follows up with a return to the tropicana of previous LP Go Easy. The slow rock rhythm section, flickering synths, bending guitar lines weave around a fevered interior monologue that slowly drip feeds the details of a failed relationship before breaking into an otherworldly instrumental solo followed by a lengthy, ambient and experimental outro. As in many of Blank Realm’s songs the subtle presence of the rhythm section, in this case the doo-woop bass line, seems to be the musical element that holds it all together.
An ominous and reverberant track which grows in intensity, Costume Drama tells the narrative of an adversarial and jaunted lover. Dan’s aggressive vocals berate an unnamed adversary while Sarah’s harmonies lurk beneath. Innocent keyboard chimes sit above the sonic murk adding a veneer of childish innocence to the outburst.
As if pleading forgiveness after the bitter tantrum of Costume Drama the minimalistic instrumentals and sweet vocals of Dream Date urge a lover to elope to a tropical location. Flowers in Mind conveys a sense of floating euphoria with ascending bass, guitar and synth riffs interweaving with increasing frequency before climaxing with another signature jam.
While Daniel’s vocals frequently take focus on the band’s recordings, Gold gives Sarah’s vocals an opportunity to take centre point. With melancholy vocalisations reminiscent of the velvety soft rock vocals of Stevie Nicks and mournful lyrics such as “Last night’s rain took all our gold” Gold provides an unexpected, yet great moment for the album. Providing a counterpoint to the downcast tone of the previous track the warm guitar hooks of Palace of Love imbue the song with an upbeat new wave vibe.
Resolving the recurrent theme of a push and pull between lovers which colours many of the album’s tracks, the ethereal noise and rhythmic instrumentals of closer Too Late Now create a sense of powerful resignation before the track slowly cascades into oblivion
Creating their own idiosyncratic music which pushes if not outright rejects the formulaic aspects of pop music, Blank Realm continue to build upon their formidable reputation as a great Australian band. For Brisbane fans looking to catch the band before they embark another round of international touring Blank Realm will be launching the new LP at Brisbane’s newest music venue The Foundry alongside locals Nite Fields and 100% on September 5th.
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