A horrible hack

Blanche Blanche Blanche - The Birds Of Paradise

Scam b​/​w Press Dumps

Year Released: 2014
Format: 7"
Label: Adagio830
Reviewed by Alex Hannan on Jun 24, 2014
This 7" has been the jumping off point into the convoluted world of BLANCHE BLANCHE BLANCHE, the duo of Zach Phillips and Sarah Smith, makers of a rich mulch of neon freak-pop, often combined with eye-straining busted-tech visuals. Here they're collaborating with THE BIRDS OF PARADISE, a duo of bass and guitar, but the basic material is not a million miles away from BLANCHEx3's 2013 LP "Breaking mirrors", which also had nervy, obsessive psyche-new-wave tendencies combined with a free-associative feel. This 7" has a late-night cough-syrup home demo sort of feel to it, channeling a creepy intensity.

"Scam" hurries busily through odd scales that evade conventional tonality, Sara's dispassionate vocals sometimes floating over the top, sometimes buried in the mix. The band are constantly emphasising off-beats and avoiding four-square rhythm, guitar shards crashing in from time to time with trebly squeal, sounding as if they were recorded via intercom. I'm getting a little HEAVY VEGETABLE-style quirkiness in the atmosphere. After a clangorous mini-guitar solo the song loops into an obsessive vocal refrain of "You need that / you need that / you need that" which is periodically swamped and obscured by rumbling analogue soundscapes and bulbous mid-range blurting, the song rolling out a final refrain of "How good does it feel? / how good does it feel? / how good does it feel?"

B-side "Press dumps" has a jerky new-wave tremor to it, compulsive unison riffing underlying another chilly vocal performance, clanking machinery stabs bringing a DEVO-ish feel to the chorus. Again, the emphasis is scattershot, needling, refusing to let the listener settle. Two solos crash into each other in the middle of the song, a hyperspeed, cascading harp-sounding part and a clattering, creaking guitar solo. Pounding distorted drums enter and finally beat all the other textures to pulp.

BLANCHE BLANCHE BLANCHE seem to draw at times on abstract process-focused compositional techniques which remind me of the likes of CORNELIUS CARDEW and JOHN CAGE - for example, allowing material to be generated randomly, by on-the-spot choices by musicians or by pre-set rules rather than by consonance of sound. One description of a song arrangement process reads: "the band learned “unison” parts from sheets with note names but no direction w/r/t the octave in which the note is to be played , resulting in a weird kind of unison counterpoint as the band chose different avenues of melodic motion — most of the songs contain 0 to 2 chords according to the conventional definition ." An unusual thought process for a band releasing on Adagio 830, and interesting to see these kind of ideas being salvaged from the 60s avant-garde concert hall.

A visit to Zach's website at osr-tapes.com will give you access to a lot of back catalogue downloads, as well as a number of knotty writings about his record label, which promotes "a psychological orientation toward songwriting and music production temporally open to continual re-signification, with that openness being its chief characteristic and primary goal" and is "committed philosophically to a disengagement from the politics of the promotional apparatus". Prominent in the writings listed is a piece called "A message from OSR to the music media, music critics, music bloggers and so on here together referred to as "cultural commentators"" which enumerates some shortcomings of the aforementioned in an elaborate, hectoring, late-19th-century style. I planned to take systematic issue with it here for over-generalizing until a later addendum added some clarification of the targets of the piece - to paraphrase heavily, dumbed-down music discourse that, while mediating between listener and musician in the role of a supposed "expert", relies on neat genre labelling while ignoring considerations of the relationship between method, medium and mindset. Phillips comes across as simultaneously irritated by being misunderstood or glibly categorized, and smug about his superior analysis of the situation.

So there's a lot to chew on here beneath the surface of the songs. In another article Phillips argues against "the inert rationality of institutional art", saying "to be interesting is not very interesting when interesting means "lights up the academic brain in the accustomed ways," "making the right references," or "kowtowing to the division of labor, leaving the right holes for the critical establishment to fill in an exciting madlib"." He prefers "the sensation of coming into contact with an unknown quantity, a definite intelligibility that is difficult to put into words, a force that seems to rain martial arts acid on anyone who would attempt to box it in, an incommensurable energy without a clear contour -- and this through clear language, this through actual direct communication with and via the work." My "direct communication with the work" has been interesting - I appreciate the band's esoteric soundworld, despite a certain emotional remoteness.

Struggling through unwieldy essays and interviews has eroded my goodwill towards the record somewhat, but I think the casual listener with a taste for the leftfield will find things to appreciate here without knowing any of the backstory.

Share this: