A horrible hack

Blanche Blanche Blanche

Termite Music

Year Released: 2014
Format: Tape
Label: OSR Tapes
 
Reviewed by Alex Hannan on Apr 22, 2015
The last BBB release I reviewed was a two-song 7", and there was plenty to say about the surreal, shambolic soundworld of just those six minutes of music. Now here I am with a fifty-seven track tape which shows off much more of the variety of their approach. The tracks here date from 2009-13, and are a mixture of live versions of tracks drawn from their previous releases, and studio (or whatever multitracking device you choose to call it.) Arrangements vary from voice and keyboard to full-band.

The tape opens with their poppiest, most straightforward work I've heard, a cover of THE ONLY ONES' "Fools" - the guitar jangle of the original replaced by smeary Casio textures, the timing a little weird. The cover locates BBB momentarily in 4/4 and straightforward linear melodies, while colouring just a little outside the lines on closer listening. They're quickly back in their own odd sweet spot, though, the meandering "Tragic bios" following a halting rhythm through knotty, hyperactive chord shifts, bursting into an erratic, angular guitar solo. "I want to learn" brings in an '80s Casio feel, like a tinny cable TV jingle. "Sign the clock" alternates singer-songwriterly keyboard playing with jarring runs of notes in a different key, dispassionate vocals droning over the top.

Over the course of the tape a series of different atmospheres flit past, some becoming recurring motifs, like the spindly voice and keyboard work, or the live tracks, in which thanks to BLANCHE BLANCHE BLANCHE's collage-like aesthetic the crowd noise seems like just another layer. But a frequent thread seems to be the application of cut-up and patchwork techniques of composition and arrangement to music that has a functional origin - hints of old theme tunes, holding pattern music, cheap keyboard "jazz" presets mangled and distorted. Snatches of smooth 70s rock ideas also get warped and recontextualised. The collage textures are sometimes accentuated by unexpected drop-ins and level shifts, as in "The river." Wobbly timing and wayward skeins of notes coexist with snatches of sophisticated harmony and a great deal of musical versatility, vocal parts, for example, moving from close harmony to a sentimental lyrical touch, garage freakouts like their ROYAL TRUX cover and then the stilted, irregular rhythms of tracks like "Tomato farm" or "The Savoy."

In certain moods on pressing play all this can seem fey and pointlessly rambling, the lyrics often seeming determinedly evasive. "Outcome", for example, runs "if you ever / get home / I'll be there / alone / Is it weather tonight? / I keep zero / but it's more than I'd like / sign the cover / kiss the ring / favourite lover / of the king / It's another / day of life / I have no father / what kind of son am I? / Burn the records / I don't care / I get my echo / in underwear / outcome / can't stand to lie one more time / how come it's so believing to try?" Little deadpan spoken word playlets like "Motion sensitive man" demand tolerance for whimsy, e.g.: "A: I am a motion sensitive man! B: Interesting. Because I'm building a laser for that purpose. And I just don't see how you could do it. So I'd... like you to leave. A: Well it's interesting that you would say something like that, because I knew you as a child, and you were never like that..." BLANCHE BLANCHE BLANCHE don't seem interested in trying to charm the listener with naked emotion or staged vulnerability, and remain mostly inscrutable. The strength of their music lies in its profligacy of sounds and ideas. The live tracks, the more layered tape creations and the occasional sweet melody that drifts out, like the artless melancholy of "Hercules," are the ones I keep coming back to.


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