Unless you count the sterling sound of the Wurlitzer organ in the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool has never had an indigenous musical style the same way that Liverpool had Merseybeat, Manchester had Madchester, or even Wigan had Northern Soul. blanket’s debut EP ‘Our Brief Encounters’ is, I believe, the first post-rock from Blackpool: could it be the start of a local scene filled with mini-Mogwais and Godspeedettes? It might seem unlikely given Blackpool hosts the old-school punk sounds of Rebellion Festival, but if, like me, you’ve ever been a teenager going for a moody walk along the seafront, battered by the winds off the Irish Sea, you’ll realise the town and the genre actually suit each other pretty well.
Having said that, hopes of blanket creating a new musical dialect might be premature: Our Brief Encounters sounds more like the quartet finding their feet than stating their intentions. None of blanket are newcomers, having all played in bands who’ve toured internationally, but the EP’s opening tracks feel like tentative explorations in the genre, leaning on familiar touchstones. Opener ‘Acacia’ mixes glitchy 65daysofstatic synth samples with a melody almost identical to Sigur Ros’s ‘Ny batteri’; the Explosions in the Sky guitar textures of ‘Tethered’ are framed around vocal samples from ‘Lost in Translation’, a genre reference point so familiar as to be a cliché.
The EP’s first triumph is its third track, ‘Discoveries and Beginnings’, in which the band finally fuse their recognisable influences into something distinctively their own. Again driven by a vocal sample, the band go to an unlikely source: Ed Helms in ‘The Office’. Surprisingly, the Helms sample is very emotionally powerful when coupled with the upbeat feel and the pretty guitar interplay.
Fourth track ‘Starlight Filled Our Minds’ is a moody slice of e-bow reverb, low-volume vocals and staccato post-hardcore guitar, accompanied by a beautifully-lit video of the band performing in a dark room with a dancer. My favourite track on the EP, however, is the closer ‘To The Skies’. The song is aptly named: you can imagine being in an aeroplane looking down at the clouds above as the soaring guitar, delay-heavy glass harmonica patches and driving rhythm section propel the song to the heavens. It’s kind of disappointing that the EP finishes there, just as it sounds as though it’s hit its stride.
While this EP was being written, singer/guitarist Bobby Pook lost much of his equipment and almost lost the ability to play music due to a house fire in which he suffered third-degree burns to his hands. He was able to replace it thanks to generous souls on Kickstarter and sympathetic equipment sponsors. It’s hard to know to what extent this influenced the record – it was after all in the middle of creation, and the shoegaze volume of the vocals make it hard to pick out lyrics. At a guess, it probably influenced Pook’s whispery, fragile vocal style, and the band’s revitalised faith in humanity perhaps drove the two most positive songs here (Discoveries and Beginnings especially); whatever the impact, we’re lucky to have any blanket at all.
An album will presumably follow, hopefully created in less tragic circumstances: now that the band have found their feet with this promising debut, I look forward to hearing them sounding more uniquely blanket on the album.
Our Brief Encounters is available 10 February 2017 – Pre-order it on wax here.