The first Blanks show was at an after-school program for 35 children suffering from ADD. It included a clumsy Prince cover and a sing-along about sharks. One boy stood in the back of the gym and shouted (correctly) “That ain’t hip-hop!” over and over again. Another blew his clarinet along to the songs. Blanks struggled through four numbers. It rained all the way home. An inauspicious start for one of the year’s more promising young local bands.
CALLING OUT BLOC PARTY FANS: Can Blanks appeal to the same audience?
But that was September 2001, when the four Blanks — singer Matt Boch, bassist Long Lekhac, guitarist Jon Carter, and drummer John Drake — had met as freshmen at Harvard. They were just figuring out what kind of band they wanted to be.
Four and a half years later, they’re garnering attention with their stormy translation of ’80s dance punk. Never mind that they’ve been together for four years; they say they feel the release of their EP Infinite Lives marks a new beginning. “I feel there was an incubation period that we’re just emerging from,” says Carter when I sit down with him and Boch and Drake at the Loeb Drama Center in Harvard Square. “So in a way, we are a new band.”
Blanks have found their neo-new-wave sound at a time when a number of like-minded bands, among them Protokoll and Wildlife and Night Rally, are bubbling up from the local underground. And they’re playing out more than ever. (This Sunday, May 7, they’re at T.T. the Bear’s.) It’s a reflection of the success they’ve had with Infinite Lives. Blanks want to be a nexus for a DIY community of disparate bands, DJs, artists, designers, and party promoters. “In Providence,” Boch says of his home town, “the same people will go see a weird symphonic klezmer band and an avant-metal band like Lightning Bolt.” Boston, he reflects, isn’t quite small enough for that kind of tight-knit community. Around here, he says, “the freaks don’t really stick together.”
But Blanks are aiming to do something about that. And now that the local label Honeypump, whose final release was Infinite Lives, is calling it quits, there’s a vacuum to be filled. “We’re trying to talk with, like, Unlocked Groove, and David Day and Erik Pearson,” Boch continues. “There are a lot of people who are doing electronic music and listening to Bloc Party remixes but haven’t paid much attention to the local rock scene. It’s like, ‘There’s this band that’s as good as Bloc Party in Boston, just down the block: why don’t you talk to each other?’ But the rock kids don’t show up at dance nights, so the dialogue is lacking on both sides.”
Boch could easily be referring to Blanks when he calls out Bloc Party, since Infinite Lives is in the vein of Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm (Vice). The mood ranges from dark and epic to bright and majestic, with the quiet-to-loud dynamics of Nirvana at their most bipolar and pounding beats that bring to mind the Rapture at their most frenetic. But the closest Blanks come to straightforward dance punk is on “Disorderly,” with its big drums, an infectious moog line, and Cure-style guitars.