Monday, April 28, 2008

KQED Music: The Blank Tapes - Daydreams

Sometimes new acts blow onto the music scene like an unforecast hurricane, taking the world by storm in a single Force 12 blast of hype and excitement. But not always.

Enter The Blank Tapes, a folky, lo-fi (largely) one-man band, otherwise known as Bay Area local Matt Adams. Released last fall, his latest album Daydreams arrived with a ripple rather than a splash. But, at 26 tracks and a fill-that-CD-to-the-edges 79 minutes long, there is a lot to chew on. Perhaps it isn't surprising that it's taking us all a bit longer than usual to catch up.

Of course, the fact that it was released through his own Matty-Made Music label probably doesn't help either. And the fact that it is self-recorded and self-released goes some way towards explaining a slight lack of... no, not quality control. Long it may be, but padded with fillers it ain't. Perhaps "restraint" is a better way to put it.

Because while Daydreams may be a bit untidy in terms of structure, it's also chock full of excellence: overflowing with it in fact. Every time you hit play, another gem pops out from the crowd. But overall it's just too much, like trying to eat a family pizza on your own.

Adams is, apparently, aware of the problem. As he says on his MySpace page (in response to an earlier review pointing out that Daydreams may be a little, y'know, lengthy): "yes it's true, my albums are f@#king long. Oh well, I can't seem to change that."

Athough this may seem frustrating at first, try thinking of the CD less as a finished product and more as a sort of DIY work in progress. Welcome to the flatpack album release, which is one of the beauties of the post-iTunes musical landscape: we are now free to take the raw materials of any album (in this case, a 25-song hodgepodge) and chop, change, cut, and paste to our heart's content.

For example, you could easily make two great albums from this single CD, but how you split the tracks is up to you: do you sort them by pace (separating the upbeat rockers and rollicking folk stompers from the sad acoustic ballads and stoned moaners), by quality (cutting together a slimmed-down main release of your favorites next to an album of bonus material), or even just crudely cleave it in half down the middle?

For me, there was an obvious split between the more folksy, acoustic Americana of tracks such as "This is What's Inside," and the rockier indie of "When I See You." But (and this is where it gets complicated) many of the album's best tracks arrive when the two styles collide.

For what it's worth, my perfect mix starts with the excellent trio of tracks 17 through 19: "Oh My Love" (think Tapes 'n Tapes with a country beat and you won't be far off), "Part the Clouds" (an upbeat, salty shanty worthy of The Coral
), and the more light-hearted "Listen to the One."

Elsewhere, I've included "Long Ago" (like The Notwist at their soft-focus folkiest), "Silverado" (which couldn't be more charmingly Neil Young-like if it tried), and retro-indie classics "We're Better Not Together" and "We Can Still Be Friends" (both of which party like it's 1989).

My mix closes by sneaking in the pretty, whimsical "Why Must I Fall in Love" as a kind of "hidden" final track. Unfortunately, this ignores the existing album's only real nod towards structure, which is the inclusion of (oops) a "hidden" final track. This one ends, appropriately, with the clunking sound of the stop button being pressed on a tape recording. I guess it's time to start work on compilation two...

Of course, no matter which way you decide to cut it, you may end up with a few tracks left over. Don't panic: Just think of them as lost B-sides, to be included in your very own deluxe double-disc reissue in 20 years' time.

The Blank Tapes are touring Portland, Washington, and California during April and May: check here for details. 'Daydreams' is out now on Matty-Made Music.

By Keith Laidlaw. Read this article in its original setting here.