This ‘Blank Realm’ article was written by Stephen Butchard, a GIGsoup contributor
“Every plan you’re gonna make has been made, and every track you’re gonna lay has been laid”, mumbles Daniel Spenser on ‘Flowers in Mind’, ‘Illegals in Heaven’s’ woozy centrepiece. It’s a depressing sentiment, shared by many a musical curmudgeon: rock music has at this point exhausted its potential; every sub-genre has been milked dry, and every new idea is merely a rehash of what we’ve seen before, but with a flashy coat of paint on it. Spencer doesn’t disagree, but hopefully asserts that there’s an emotional resonance in revisiting these nostalgic tropes: “You can still cast your mind, to that boogie back in time, keep the flowers in mind”, he slurs. The track eventually escalates with giddy intensity, the drums growing frantic as the mix thickens in a claustrophobic haze, proving his point wonderfully through its ragged euphoria. These are ideas we may have heard countless times, but the feelings ‘Blank Realm’ conjure with them are no less exhilarating. The Brisbane based four-piece have been steadily turning heads with their scuzzy blend of new wave, shoegaze, and psychedelic textures, sticky garage rock songwriting and a punk attitude. It’s a sound that wears its influences firmly on its scruffy sleeve – there are dizzy flashbacks to the Velvet Underground in the band’s sardonic wit, and the brittle, lo-fi recording tickles the ears in the same way ‘Daydream Nation’ does. Despite the poignant nostalgia, ‘Blank Realm’ manages to blend these elements together in a bruised mess that feels modern in its punch, and memorable in its intoxication. The band – comprised of three siblings and a ‘spiritual brother’ in Luke Walsh’s fuzzy guitar – broke through with last year’s ‘Grassed In’, where they sharpened their erratic style into something more tangible, and more striking as a result. Their follow-up finds them recording in a studio with the help from producer Lawrence English, an oddball musical hero in his own right. The result is the band’s most varied and consistent record yet, losing none of their grit or charm in the process.
Opener, ‘No Views’, cuts through with shrill guitar slaps, before primal drums and Sarah Spenser’s twisted carnival organ dive in, in a messy, cathartic brawl. “I’ve got no views on it, it’s just something that I did” Spenser yelps on the hook, in a breathlessly exciting shoutout to youthful apathy. ‘River of Longing’ is a frenzied slice of dream-pop, jagged and volatile, with a loose energy that suggests that it could disintegrate into a mess of noise at any second. Layers of sharp keys and guitar act as a blissful counterpoint to the lethargic vocals that charm in their drunken swagger. ‘Costume Drama’ bounces with a childish glee, with a plonking keyboard refrain that cuts through wacked-out layers of guitar distortion, before cooling into snarling verses. For every freaky barroom stomper, there’s a woozy ballad like ‘Gold’, on which Sarah Spencer steps up to sing. She charms with an apathetic vocal that allows space for the gorgeous textures to seep around it. Her brother Daniel’s vocals are just as intoxicating on ‘Dream Gate’, where plodding guitar and drums move aside and give his eccentric swagger room to play. “When we get married we’ll drink coconut rum, and when we get married I won’t carry my gun” he drools, in a wide eyed dream fit for his waster persona.
Obvious single ‘Palace of Love’ basks in heady nostalgia, unrelenting in its bubbling excitement. The cynic inside me balks at its garish vocals and guileless melody, but that cynicism washes away into a grin every time I give in and blast the track out of my headphones; its undeniably fun – a feeling that permeates the entire album. There are mild weak points – the closer, ‘Too Late Now’, is overbearing in its slowdive worship, and for some, this blatant regurgitation of classic concepts will make much of the album prove tedious. But the passion, energy, and soundcraft Blank Realm load into these songs make those flaws feel irrelevant. This is a rousing record that captures the pure thrill of its influences whilst filtering this feeling into something that’s memorable in its own right.
‘Illegals in Heaven is out now on Fire Records.