Never let it be said that Mike Sniper doesn't put his money where his mouth is. The roster for his Captured Tracks label is a veritable who's-who of any up-and-coming lo-fi indie bands, and his own hyper-prolific recording project, Blank Dogs, is no exception. While some lo-fi groups have been accused of hiding their musical shortcomings with generous helpings of static, those claims can't be made against Sniper.
Plenty of musicians look to the past for inspiration, but it's hard to imagine anyone who has willfully moved themselves back to the 1980s with as much determination as Mike Sniper, who also trades under the name Blank Dogs. You name the new wave synth pop gesture, and Sniper has almost certainly resurrected it somewhere on Blank Dogs' Land and Fixed, a set of moody electronic melodies from the axis where Gary Numan and Martin Hannett meet. While the tone of Land and Fixed frequently hovers somewhere between cool and dour, this music manages to work up a potent head of steam on tracks like "Northern Islands" and "Elevens," and there are genuinely catchy melodic hooks on "Out the Door" and "Goes By" that lift up the tunes even when they dip into minor keys (which isn't at all uncommon).
Apparently all of Blank Dogs’ prodigious output has been leading to this one point: Land and Fixed, a 12-song LP put out by Captured Tracks, the label started up by Mike Sniper, who is also the man behind the band. And this claim isn’t really false. Land and Fixed takes what’s good about earlier Blank Dogs releases and makes it a little better.
Throughout Land and Fixed, a murky fog hangs in the air. And I have to admit, that fog is not at all welcome up my street. Blank Dogs, aka Mike Sniper, is no stranger to lo-fi recording techniques - his Captured Tracks imprint, which specialises in claustrophobic no wave, has earned him a list of indie credentials that could span Brooklyn Bridge. It’s impressive the label even sustains itself, let alone such high esteem, considering Sniper’s prolific output as a solo artist.
The formerly anonymous Mike Sniper (of New York City) has released a handful of various EPs, singles, and LPs over the past few years under the name Blank Dogs, increasing his scope and resources each time out. It’s not that the increase in notoriety or those changes to his music have changed the results all that drastically, just little incremental steps. That is, until Land and Fixed, which takes a jump into more controlled, less fuzzed out territory, and does so quite successfully.
It takes a lot of intellectual gymnastics to explain why it’s okay for us care about an artist like Mike Sniper’s Blank Dogs when their work is so unrepentantly derivative. One writer explained that the facelessness of the music is a result of “nervous tension and a project whose first goal is self-effacement” (Dusted) and another claimed that Sniper makes use of post-punk’s “bittersweet melodies, but muddies them to oblivion, pulling them back closer to the raw emotional punch of punk” (Pitchfork). Each writer presents a thought-provoking analysis, but I can’t help but feel like they’re grappling for some way to justify liking the band even though most distinctive elements of Blank Dogs songs have been lifted from other sources.