Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Album + Live: Blacklist

Midnight of the Century
Album: Midnight of the Century
Weird Records, 2009
Rating: ******* (7/10)

The long-awaited debut LP of gothy post punks Blacklist, dubbed Midnight of the Century, is a relief after two EPs that failed to do the band justice. Though I've never failed to be compelled by the band's live show, their existing releases seemed unfocused and unmemorable. I could never even pin down exactly what was wrong with the EPs, but for whatever reason, the music didn't translate.

On Midnight, however, fans will finally recognize the band they love. However, even this album has its problems, particularly in the production. From a band influenced largely by the dense, layered music of post punks like the Cure, the record is frustratingly wanting for depth and richness. The sonic weaknesses might have been overcome with better recording and production techniques, which these days can be achieved even on a low budget - overdubbing duplicate parts, intensifying reverb, and so forth. Given the credentials of the engineers behind the sound (most notably, Ed Buller, who's resume includes work by Slowdive and Suede), the shallowness is really inexplicable.

With even the sound falling short, the record must stand on songwriting alone. And in this, Blacklist have proven themselves exceptional. There's not a single bad track. "Fight of the Demoiselles" could be an alternative radio hit, with many songs not falling far behind. There's a decent amount of variety, with the subtle trance of "The Cunning of History" and the airy "Odessa" breaking up the rest of the dark 80's sheen.

Unlike many of the darker bands of the 80's, Blacklist only flirts briefly with synthesizers, sticking by and large with the traditional guitar-bass-drum arrangements familiar in the rest of rock. Lyrically, like many goth-inspired groups, they draw upon dramatic images that speak more of modern society than personal moodiness. It's a work with vision, edge and above all, well penned songs.

When: 7/31
Where: Cameo Gallery

The Cameo show, following very closely on the heels of the album release, was not your typical Blacklist affair. For one thing, Cameo is more well-lit than many spaces, and Blacklist, unsurprisingly, thrives in the dark. Also, with a mostly shoegazing bill, the regular goth crowd didn't turn up.

Still, as always, the band was a powerful presence on stage. Dressed in black, with expressions to match, the band fanned out powerfully and delivered their songs with intense conviction and technical talent. Live shows also give the band, particularly guitarist James Minor, a chance to delve into more experimental sonic territory. Fleshing out their gothic soundscapes with new textures and improvisation, Blacklist expanded on their new material without losing track of the underlying songs.

Much like Ringo Deathstarr, with whom they shared the Cameo stage, Blacklist is not an original band. Both groups cover familiar territory, but each executes its chosen style with such near perfection that they become memorable and significant in their own right.

[Blacklist on MySpace]

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