Thursday, August 8, 2013

Album Review: "Blanko Basnet" by Blanko Basnet

Blanko Basnet will be celebrating their
album release at The Pinhook in Durham this Friday
with Speedy Ortiz & Organos
The joys of following your local music scene most certainly come in bunches. Sometimes you get to see a band's gradual ascent to stardom and you can become incredibly attached to these artists and the work that they produce. Other times you see bands fall by the wayside--for some reason or another--sometimes it's a break-up and others just take hiatuses to focus on separate projects. It's kind of like when you're young and your parents split up, you love them both equally but you naturally gravitate to the one that does cooler shit with you.

That's the way I feel about the current situation with Hammer No More The Fingers. Hammer has long been a favorite local band of mine, they were one of the first local acts I really got into, I booked them for a local festival, I traveled to see them, I learned the songs by heart. It was fantastic to feel a connection with a band like that, but as time has passed on Hammer has begun to oversaturate the market a bit. Black Shark and the Pink Worm EP were both fantastic releases, but it began to feel like a lot of the same music on a different day. Is it still awesome? Definitely. But there's definitely a yearning for some innovation and that's what Blanko Basnet feels like.

Blanko Basnet is the new project from Joe Hall of Hammer No More The Fingers and it's got enough of the vintage Hammer sounds to make it feel familiar whilst exploring vastly different sonic territories. While some tracks definitely feel like they have the typical Hammer bounce to them, there's enough of a dynamic switch that Blanko feels entirely new. The songs feel more explorative, there's much more jagged chord changes and spastic rhythmic switch-ups that keep things interesting for the listener. Hall's melodies typically follow the centric guitar lines but the tracks are in a constant state of flux, so by the time you've become attached to a particular section you find yourself humming along to an entirely new rhythm.

The album kicks off with "Forest", one of the stronger tracks on the record. "Forest" is an excellent introduction to the oddities of Blanko, brisk guitar lines kick in alongside a bare-boned drumbeat and an easy gliding melody. The song follows a natural ebb and flow, things are toned down for the chorus before a fuzzy synth line cuts through the mix and gives the song an entirely new feel. The electronic implementation benefits Blanko greatly on this self-titled debut, take tracks like "Faceplant" for example. A programmed drum beat kicks in and the song slowly builds upon its foundation. Before you know it staccato guitar lines are making their way into the mix followed by subdued synth lines and seemingly blistering riffs to close the track out. You can almost envision Hall's hands skittering across the fretboard as you hear the frenzied song take structure.

But one of the most enjoyable aspects of Blanko Basnet is that they don't rely entirely on this interesting soundscape to float the band along. The tracks remain lyrically compelling due to the swiftly shifting vocal melodies and intricately woven overdubs, which gives these songs an immense amount of depth. You can listen through Blanko Basnet multiple times and take something entirely different from it each time, mostly because each individual aspect of the music is so finely tuned. It's rare to finish an album and immediately get excited about listening to it again, but that's pretty much my experience with Blanko Basnet in a nutshell. Especially when you've got a track like "Nothing Left" as the closer. The track opens with a steady guitar line that comfortably rides along throughout most of the song, but falls out of the mix in the chorus. "Find out my mind is in the gutter/Kicking rocks over the heads of others", Hall's vocals cry out in desperation and as soon as the refrain is over the song kicks back into high gear.

As "Nothing Left" dissolves away, a vocal sample much like the one that begins the album kicks in, "Blanko Basnet, odd sort of name. Odd sort of fellow." It's fitting that that's the last thing you hear from this album because it's a record defined by its eccentricities. Obscure vocal samples bookend this release that's filled with far reaching melodies and rhythms, but while Blanko Basnet is most definitely an odd listen it's one that revels in its oddities and beckons the listeners to step in and embrace the change.

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