Release Date: Sep 4, 2015
Record label: Fire Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Noise Pop, Noise-Rock
For a band that hates straight lines as much as Blank Realm does, descriptions like "focused" and "cohesive" don't quite grasp how they've gotten better with each album. Historically, a big part of their appeal lay in the feeling that anything could happen during one of their songs; Illegals in Heaven keeps that unpredictability but adds just enough consistency to ensure that whatever happens is likely to be great. Recorded and produced by Room40 label head Lawrence English, the band's fifth album is also the first one they recorded in an actual studio.
Who the hell doesn’t want some tunes that blast off the headphones and inspire impromptu dance jams? I do! And who the hell wouldn’t want to believe in a group of ambitious folk that could unite fellow weirdos? I DO! Look, when I scrobbled regularly on last. fm, bands always topped my most played charts – not because I consciously avoided solo artists, but because I loved the concept of a band, i. e as a group of like-minded people fighting as one against the rest of the dull world.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Brisbane quartet Blank Realm can be a little hard to pin down and that has always been a part of their appeal. Aside from a dizzying output consisting of ten full-length releases in eight years (with just over half of them being CD-R's and cassettes), they have never stayed in one place for very long.
Remarkably prolific and fiercely independent, Brisbane’s Blank Realm have been a formidable part of the the Australian music scene for a full decade now. A band that cherishes manic psychedelic flourishes with impetuous abandon, the three Spencer siblings (alongside their “spiritual brother”) have continually released a steady succession of albums that gradually add some structure to the noisy disarray of past efforts without toning down the fuzz that does them so well. Last year’s breakthrough Grassed Inn saw them streamline their songwriting approach with swaying, roundabout compositions that flow in never-ending spontaneity.
There’s a moment in every great band’s career where they shrug off their formative influences and assume their ultimate form. Blank Realm – that brilliantly erratic Brisbane quartet made up of three siblings and a “spiritual brother” – have long been the sum of their parts: a sound drawn from krautrock, New York’s no wave, New Zealand’s entire Flying Nun roster, and those closer to home, like the Go-Betweens. Illegals in Heaven, though, is their definitive statement, the album no one other than Blank Realm could have made.
Aussie psych rockers work up a subtle storm. Comprising three siblings including vocalist Sarah Spencer and her brother, Daniel, Blank Realm recall the cleverly chaotic squall of Sonic Youth and Royal Trux.. ADVERTISING inRead invented by Teads.
The freedom of youth is nothing more or less than the freedom from self, from having to choose and bind yourself to a particular identity. It’s this liberty that the Australian quartet Blank Realm celebrate and grieve on their latest album, Illegals in Heaven, reaching deep into their gift for noisy pop and tearing out nine blustery salvos to the inevitable loss of youthful possibility. Their balance of rambunctious guitar jumbles and maturely wrought jingles is the perfect encapsulation of the tension between adolescent limitlessness and senescent limitation, and even if they arguably come down a little too heavily on the side of aged sobriety, the sheer exuberance and emotional acuteness of their DIY rock is enough to perk up even the most disillusioned eternal child.
Aussie quartet Blank Realm describe themselves as “occult boogie woogie”, which is to say that their dreampop has the kind of jingle-jangle melodies that would have made winkle-pickers shuffle at a Camden indie disco circa 2006. Beyond lyrics about the “caverns of your mind” and candles in windows, they’re light on mysticism, but clearly the band worships at the altar of reverb – to the point that you imagine they all have bowl cuts and hail from Berkshire not Brisbane. Among the album’s brightest moments, River of Longing shuffles along amiably with a chiming shoegaze riff that suggests Slowdive but also the Smiths; Cruel Night is a surf-ish love song that meanders dreamily; and chugging closer Too Late Now aims for MBV heights as blustering distortion closes in on the candescent lead guitar.
The evolution of Brisbane’s Blank Realm from embryonic psyche-rockers to power-pop chameleons over the last five years has been one of most gratifying artistic success stories of the revived Australian independent music scene. Building on the cocoon-shedding diversity of the lo-fi Deja What? (2010), the frenetic full-flight precision of Go Easy (2012) and the more expansive vistas of Grassed Inn (2014), this latest LP from the quartet consolidates the creative roll with a set that both confidently summarises and subtly extends upon the arc followed across its three predecessors. Although being the product of the group’s first foray into a proper studio, with producer Lawrence English at the console, Illegals In Heaven still reassuringly retains – and in some cases thickens – the reverb-drenched dankness of its long-playing forbearers.
Brisbane’s Blank Realm has been gradually dragging itself out of the muck, polishing its noisy, squawky onslaught until it shines like pop. With Illegals in Heaven, the band moves ever further into clarity. With electronic pop maverick Lawrence English producing, they have, if not exactly tamed their sound, at least neatened it up. Even the opening stomp, “No Views” has a rough precision, its exhilarating riff careening off a cliff, but cleanly, so that you can hear every guitar twitch, every drum thump, every squally keyboard riff.
I knew nothing about Blank Realm before I shunted their disc into the CD tray and pressed play. Forty-odd minutes later, I know that they do nothing I haven't heard before, but I find them novel and invigorating and want to keep on listening. I've since discovered they're from Brisbane, Australia (rather than any other Brisbane you may know of; I expect America has a couple), they're a four-piece, three of whom are siblings, and although this isn't their first album, it is the first thing they've done in a studio.