Blanker has been the music outlet for John Norwood, the former frontman of the NYC indie rock group, Upstate Escape, since the dis-banding of the group in 2014. Cars On Fire is Blanker's fourth album and was written, performed and produced entirely by Norwood from his apartment in Brooklyn.
At present, Norwood is the sole member of Blanker, performing all instrumentation and handling the engineering/production, but the project may be expanded to encompass a collective in future releases. For all things technical behind the music, the entire album was recorded using an RME Babyface audio interface and the Reaper DAW. All instruments and vocal were recorded in John’s apartment in Brooklyn. The electric guitars and bass were recorded direct into the RME Babyface, using AMT preamps. The guitars used were a re-issued Kurt Cobain Jaguar guitar, a PRS SE 277 Semi-Hollow Soapbar Baritone guitar, and a fender American Elite Jazz Bass V. Vocals and acoustic guitars were recorded with a Shure sm 7b mic. Mastering was done using the LANDR interface. In putting together this latest release, Norwood focused on distilling down a wide range of demos written over the past year and a half to seven tracks of an alt-rock style that are equal parts rowdy and reflective. This leaner format (clocking in at just over 25 minutes rather than the typical 40+ for Blanker projects) is meant to engage the listener from start to finish without any skips.
This short album begins with “Cars on Fire” which is about two sides that can’t compromise. One side likes things ‘red’ while the other likes it ‘white’ – “But no one really likes pink / So we set cars on fire.” Could be a metaphor for an earth that’s getting warmer, two political sides, two religions, or something else. Musically, the guitars sound great – their mean, low sound is both gritty, warm and bass-y. Catchy chords and a lot of bold, rock sound here. I loved the guitar melody and rawness to “Rattle, Rattle.” The ‘screw you’ attitude behind the lyrics and heavy rock guitar sound reminds me a lot of Morrissey’s style from the ‘90s.
“Definite Maybe” features a full and happy sounding acoustic and reminds me of the second wave of British rock/pop bands of the late ‘90s / early ‘00s. I loved the sarcastic optimism, or is it pessimism, behind Blanker’s lyrics – “Because things proceed more easily when we believe they can / so slap duct tape onto our dreams so we can sleep again.” “Happy Hours on Eiffel Towers” has got a fantastic presence about it – the guitar sound, the drum rhythm, the whole indie rock sound is just great! There’s some funk style incorporated within this tune as well. Fun and danceable – I think back to the funk rock bands of the ‘80s and ‘90s like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More and Jane’s Addiction.
The next song gets even heavier, heck, it’s even got some metal guitar riffs. I’d say it sounds like Blanker has got some thrash metal roots in his pocket somewhere. “You’re Club is Whack and No One Likes You” is what someone says to a club owner who doesn’t get their way and threatens legal again. The next tune “Severance” is pretty much completely the opposite of the previous track, in terms of musical style. A slower, much more mellow track about finding this “severance contract” in your life – like much later, even though “In your head, you’re still 23.” “Won’t you go home / we’ll tell you when it’s done… Won’t you go home?” sings Blanker, Damn – yeah, I know that feeling. The album’s last track “Geriatric(k)s” has a bluesy, indie rock swagger to it and as you might imagine, with a song titled like that – yeah, this song has a lot of “old guy who’s paid his dues” attitude. With words like, “Pardon me as I grab my can on the way outside / Given my instability / Microwave caked in oatmeal stains / It’s all I can eat with my tooth sensitivity.” And later…. “Roll the red carpet out toward the exit / Inherit the mess as I left it / Keep snickering, just don’t forget that / You come after me.” You know, thirty years ago I would have been the one snickering. Now, it’s just the opposite. Anyway, what stood out for me on this tune (which was one of my most favorites) was Blanker’s humorously dark lyrics and musical style on the song’s bridge, especially the way the lyrics were sung/delivered. I thought immediately of Sting’s work with the Police, and his solo career, where some of his songs cleverly mix humor, with rock and jazz styles. If you listen to just one song from Cars On Fire, listen to this one. But hey, why not listen to the entire album?
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