Music Reviews
Illegals in Heaven

Blank Realm Illegals in Heaven

(Fire) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

Remarkably prolific and fiercely independent, Brisbane’s Blank Realm have been a formidable part of the the Australian music scene for a full decade now. A band that cherishes manic psychedelic flourishes with impetuous abandon, the three Spencer siblings (alongside their “spiritual brother”) have continually released a steady succession of albums that gradually add some structure to the noisy disarray of past efforts without toning down the fuzz that does them so well. Last year’s breakthrough Grassed Inn saw them streamline their songwriting approach with swaying, roundabout compositions that flow in never-ending spontaneity. It may seem as if Grassed Inn’s formless, slithering guitar runs of crunchy distortion would quickly fall into exhausting tedium, and yet it became that album’s strongest asset.

Illegals in Heaven marks an entirely new phase in Blank Realm’s career, one in which they’re unafraid to explore a more approachable sound without renouncing their feverish delirium. One can’t really tell the difference once No Views opens the album, which brings forth a scruffy riff apace by fluttering keyboard stabs as Daniel Spencer fiercely proclaims, “I’ve got no views on it/ it’s just something that I do”. That barmy, attitudinal position is but a moment of bewildering excitement, capturing the Spencers at their most erratic and impatient. Things haven’t changed much. Except that it’s followed by the sweetly sounding River of Longing, an unabashed pop song that reimagines your favorite John Hughes, teen-defining moment - and all the messy emotions of young, love-stricken despair that come with it — with a gossamer synth line that soars and soars into an insanely joyful finish.

Blank Realm’s idea of a risk-taking venture into uncharted territory is really to prove to themselves that they can write a more ringing melody to the ears. For the first time, they’re acclimating to the idea of shortening their songs to a crisp four to five minutes more often; Palace of Love, for instance, could’ve been easily extended to double its length, and make it just as compelling, but instead they choose to stop its effects-laden, ramshackle guitar and staggered rhythm before it stumbles with fatigue. Sometimes they outright dismiss their past tendencies and care to write with tender feeling: the wooly, though alluringly serene Dream Date is a jokey account in acoustic form that perfectly depicts the imaginary portrait of a right-wing marriage, while the sincerily heartfelt Gold could pose as a Pretenders ballad (Sarah Spencer even mimics Chrissie Hynde’s wiry singing with surprising confidence).

Only in the ambling Flowers in Mind is where we detect some of Blank Realm’s good ol’ charm: one of the track’s more extensive tracks - which nods eerily close to their New Zealand neighbors The Chills’ Doledrums with its ringing hook - propels into a sonic freakout with its spiraling, rock-solid guitars and sustained motorik groove. Costume Drama does the same but in reduced form, as all it takes is a sweaty three and half minutes for them to bulldoze any sign of a tuneful note with a rush of adrenaline.

These are all changes that quite befit Blank Realm’s unearthly approach to pop music, as they’re the kind of band that requires some time to be better understood. Those passionate, adenoidal vocals will always grate as much as entice in equal measure, and their fastidious approach to fuzzed-out, lightheaded noise will somehow creep into their songs even if they decide to record in a proper studio, which took them a good decade to finally make that commitment. Delightfully off-key and inimitable in their vision, Illegals to Heaven is another peculiar leap forward for a band that only sees through a singular filter.