Release Date: May 26, 2009
Record label: In The Red
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Blank Dogs make the familiar unfamiliar. For instance, we have seen these elaborate PR tactics before: one man posing, at least in name, as a band, but with studiously guarded anonymity. But the web unearthed a name and pieced together a back-story, and Mike Sniper has been outed as the mastermind behind the project. A walking Wikipedia of music arcana, he played guitar in the New Jersey punk outfit D.C.
Blank Dogs' backstory was kept a secret for the early stages of his career, and his enigmatic stature filled the curiosity of bloggers and magazine columnists, who became infatuated with the idea of a mysterious persona possessed by a seemingly inexhaustible creative spirit. Of course he couldn't keep up the hidden identity charade forever, but Mike Sniper (probably not his real surname), the meek wizard behind the Blank Dogs curtain, maintained his anonymity for the better part of two years by hiding his face in wraps and bandages for press shots. It may sound like a cheap gimmick for the sake of gaining attention, but his intentions were pure: he hoped to avoid getting pigeon-holed as just another lo-fi/noise pop artist from the overplayed musical hotbed of Brooklyn.
At the half-turn of the 2009 Record Release Derby, the chief contender for Truest Album Title is… well, this one. Mike Sniper, formerly of D.C. Snipers—the band, not the criminals—has piled the skronk plenty high on the batch of songs found on his sophomore outing as Blank Dogs, Under and Under. Sniper’s fealty to truth in advertising extends to his record label, In The Red; Under and Under is not afraid to put equalizer needles through their paces.
In the city with the brightest spotlight on its emerging talent, Brooklyn's Blank Dogs (aka Mike Sniper) earned his hype with a series of anonymous solo releases, something like a trove of Cure and Sisters of Mercy demos from 1982, before they started cleaning up their sound. After several years, the album-proper (or longest release) is no less trashy, fuzzy, and lo-fi, but it features half of Crystal Stilts, plus the Vivian Girls on backing vocals, which is more than enough for the feeding frenzy to turn the water red. The formula is unrelenting: a near-identical drum-machine, no discernible bass, fuzz guitars, and a distorted-vocal (sometimes double-tracked) gropes towards anthems at the intersection of punk and goth – ‘Jumping Someone Else’s Train’ or the Sisters ‘Alice’ EP, say.
Listening to Blank Dogs’ Under and Under, I am inclined to point out that low fidelity is a double entendre. It refers to a willful neglect of recording quality, but also has a more cerebral connotation: a certain secrecy, and a lack of faith, if you will, to the underlying feelings and impulses of the work at hand. This shrouding tactic seems essential to the Blank Dogs' enterprise: It’s all one guy, he wears a mask in public, and he appears singularly committed to the cultivation of anonymity.
Perhaps the last thing left to do, smelling egocentric musical overload, is hide your identity. It’s probably a little coy, and it’s definitely been done. But if you wanted to sell some records – or just not get pigeonholed – based on the connotations of your address, would you rather be from the L Train or nowhere? If you wanted to make a reasonably original record and not have it explained away as yet another product of a(n overilluminated) time and place, it might be wise to stay in the shadows, or just make some shit up.