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.
From opener “Goes By”, the lack of static is pretty evident. The blooping synths are crystal clear and heavy in the mix, bouncing and cranking forward like a Slurpee head rush. The mechanized, straightforward rhythm and square synth tones that kick things off, reminiscent of Joy Division. Things have got a gothy, 80s pop quality this time around, less post-punk than past recordings. Something to that lower-fi recording style lent a rougher, less interested attitude that (combined with his anonymity) came off as distanced, punk even.
“Collides” follows up, a little darker, a little foggier. The long, held, bass synth loads everything down like cement, drum machine beats clicking and slapping into place. Sniper’s vocals come off a bit like an amateur take on Spencer Krug’s non-warbling moments, faltering yet sincere. The addition of more backing vocals is a welcome one, adding more depth to the picture, the combined Snipers having a lot more credibility as a vocalist than the one. The lyrics aren’t always distinguishable, but that hasn’t really been the point in these recordings; Maybe it will be on the next recording, though, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
The carousel-y synths at the beginning of “Longlights” (easily the best track on the album) are almost a red herring, fading quickly behind what sounds to be a Cure b-side. Insistent, pulsing synths and jangling, distorted guitar push forward, letting Sniper lean backwards in his chair, delivering the vocals without straining his voice. The lyrics (which include mentions of a “rockslide” and “tendrils floating to the ground”) seem to hold more symbolic value than anything, but those symbols are all pretty vague. That darkness doesn’t linger long, instead leaving room for the Nintendo sunshine of “Northern Islands” to float in on a pixelated breeze.
Some might be quick to lump this love for old-fashioned synths and glitchy rhythmic patterns into the “chillwave” trend, but there’s just as much lo-fi, Cure revival, and more involved. The funky synth rhythm and goofy alt-percussion on “Insides” feel, again, particularly Cure-y. Then, a minute or so in, things kickstart towards that old, familiar punk-ish sound that Sniper’d been fond of before. The constantly underwhelmed and underwhelming vocals get a bit old track after track, as many of the hooks do work.
Even the glitching bleeps and bloops of instrumental “Elevens” keep things interesting, the song surviving wonderfully without Sniper’s drone on top. So many of the tracks on the disc are strong musically and structurally that it’s hard to argue with Sniper’s singular vision. I’d take a disc full of tracks “Longlights” and “Northern Islands”. But, it’d be nice if, on one out of every few of those tracks, Sniper would find a way out of his monotone.