The Blank Tapes are one of those bands that are difficult to write about. It’s too easy to apply such music critic clichés as “sun-dappled” and “woozy” to their sound, but that’s literally what they sound like, ok? Like you’ve gone to the beach in Florida, and your mate has fallen asleep in the sun so you’re watching him turn into a fried lobster, while sipping an overly decorated cocktail. They’ve got the sleepy, beach haze sound nailed; lackadaisically melodious, a comfortable sun lounger for the ears. I reckon Jeff Bridges had to listen to stuff like this to get in character for The Big Lebowski.
It’s funny that The Blank Tapes’ music makes me think of a beardy dude with a penchant for white Russians, ‘cos that’s literally what the lead singer looks like. Except he’s managed to get out of his dressing gown and shrug on a Sergeant Pepper’s style jacket today. He manages to open his eyes more than a crack, and shifts his errant mane out of his eyes, to measure the crowd up.
Sadly, there’s not much to measure up; discounting my mates, there’s about 12 people in the upstairs of The Hope & Ruin. That means the guys that are here are the hard-core fans I suppose, cool, maybe they’ll get all impassioned and bust some crackers dance moves. One girl’s wearing a cape, she’s gonna do something, I just know it.
So The Dude prangs out some blue-sky chords on his telecaster and off they go. There’s a woman on keyboard stage left, she’s got that hippy-chick look in her eyes; they’re all clouded over and you know she’s not looking at anything in particular, and her head’s Morse-coding the drummer’s input to the room. The bass-player is a wiry, Bob-Gillespie lookalike, he’d be great at playing a spider in an avant-garde stage play. His playing style is really dextrous; his long fingers comprehensively explore the gaps in the chords, inventing a slow bounce that otherwise wouldn’t be there.
They’re a really talented set of musicians, so it’s a shame that the crowd here don’t see that. I find I’m the most animated person in the room, and I’m just doing a half-arsed two-step. Why bother if you’re just going to lean against the bar with an overpriced, over-flavoured fruit cider?! Clearly The Dude isn’t impressed either, his voice is enthusiastic and clear, but his body barely shifts other than to ring chords from the guitar.
Later in the set the band introduce a variety to their sound that’s incongruous and surprising; the singer’s eyes point down to his plethora of guitar pedals and he introduces a shred element to their beach-hut rock. He’s having a good fuck around with his flangers (I really hope someone that doesn’t play guitar is reading this…) and shifting the laze-pop sound up a gear to an approximation of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Aurally, it’s lovely, but visually, it just doesn’t match up; there’s not enough movement in The Blank Tapes’ performance, but I’m gonna let them off; there’s no fuckers here in the pub, and the divs that did bother to show up must have something wrong with their legs, or their motivation, or just their lives in general. Plus, it’s a long journey from Los Angeles, man.
The mood picks up a bit when the band play two final songs; the first harks back to their core sound of sand-sea-psych-pop, but with a bit of groove syringed in there for good measure. The latter I think is possibly the best song in their repertoire; it’s a kind of slow-dance number, you know like the ones the couples dance to at the end of the prom scene in American high school dramas? It’s a stripping back of their music, but also a stylistic change; it’s got a strut to it that none of the other tunes do, and some really beautiful plinklings (yes, editor, I’m using that) of piano. All the while The Dude is crooning “Do you want to get high my baby?” in synchronisation with the rest of the band’s harmonies. I’m gonna stick my neck out here and say that I think this is proper cool; there’s only one other song I know of that does this kind of thing*; appropriating the style of a famously druggy era in music and pairing it with overt lyrics about that very thing. No allusions, no beating around the bush; do you like to get high?
So please don’t tape over The Blank Tapes just yet; they’re mint to listen to on a Sunday morning- gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh. But the gig tonight was really lacking in momentum, I reckon that it was down to the fact that they don’t serve White Russians at The Hope & Ruin.
By Adam Morrison
*The other one is this: