So this cold wave biz is what the kids are hyped on these days. Same kids seem to concur that Blank Dogs was at the top of their (his? Mike Sniper’s?) game with the lo-fi Joy Div/Front 242/et. al. worship of the earlier records.
Fuck that. It’s easy to hide vapidity if you’re recording on a bedroom four-track and purposely cloaking your lyrics as much as Blank Dogs does. The slightly-more-polished sound of “Phrases” puts Sniper’s project on trial, and sincerity, a serious thought, is what emerges. It’s not any particular lyric, but the feeling of the album as a whole, that pushes it beyond simple Manchester ’78 dues-paying to resonate after the stylus lifts.
This album is flotsam from the bottom of the sea-but it’s a warm sea, unlike the one that spawned Cold Cave, whose glacial beats and oh-so-tragically self-aware vocals issue from the Bering Straits. The overall mood of “Phrases” is desolation, but it’s the loneliness of someone reaching out to a multitude, instead of the noise that a solipsistic cave troll makes while reinforcing his icy ramparts. This distance owes as much to the beats as the vocals: they’re more audible than on previous Dogs releases, yet they don’t grab you by the throat and throttle you as most dance music does. The multitracking lets the vocals float up out of nowhere, quickly submerging again beneath the synth swirl.
The guitar chords that open “Racing Backwards” have a cheerful melancholy to them-covert revelry, a party that would be awesome if only there were other people around to enjoy it. This song's ambiance is that of falling in love in late August, as summer wanes into autumnal twilight. This bittersweet feeling sticks with me after spinning this record, every time.