Album Reviews

THE BLANK TAPES – VACATION – REVIEW: IF ONLY EVERYTHING WAS THIS EASY…

Matt Adams paints his own album artwork!
Matt Adams paints his own album artwork!

One thing’s for sure: summer must be here. From reviewing Generationals’ latest effort earlier this month, moving on to Vacation has done everything to confirm that I’m more than ready for the beach and all of its sundries. So yes…The Blank Tapes is the alias of Matt Adams, a Californian songwriter who does not take himself too seriously. The sunshine that will have immersed him throughout his time in The Golden State is reflected with maximum emissivity in his music as well as his album artwork, which effortlessly echoes the lo-fi sounds of the 60s without trying to plagiarize them. Adams’s melting pot has had many an influence thrown into it, and bubbling from it is a laid-back haze that will leave anyone who inhales it horizontal with appeasement and yearning for the aromas of Piz Buin and Ambre Solaire!

Vacation is actually the 5th LP from The Blank Tapes, and it certainly puts you in the mood for one. It’s also, technically, a vacation for Adams himself, with his latest LP the first not to be recorded on his trusty eight-track. As a Brit myself, it makes me crave a holiday, but not a 10-day all-inclusive package to Turkey or The Balearics. Instead, I find myself wanting to recruit some mates, chip in to buy the most colourful of VW Camper Vans, and meander my way down to the coasts of Cornwall and pray for the British equivalent of a heat wave! Opening track Uh-Oh and follow-up Coast to Coast confirm very early the vibe that will be the motif of the record. A Beach Boys-esque, yesteryear attitude is backed up by the simplest of hooks, with an absence of urgency reflected in the natural harmonies and bridges. Vacation is about as easy as easy listening gets.

One of the more impressive feats of this record is just how relevant it sounds. There’s no doubt about it that this album should have been released in the 60s, under the supervision of John Lennon and Brian Wilson. I think this is more just a welcome coincidence with regards to Adams’s attitude to life in general. I’m sure the word ‘serious’ is not one at the forefront of his vocabulary, and the fact that his music sounds so nostalgic is a reminder of an attitude to music in general that was pioneered by my aforementioned supervisors above! Considering this, however, no one track on Vacation sounds as relevant as Tamarind Seeds. Without a doubt my favourite on the album, it’s the coolest of the cool. Another sensationally laid-back hook has the slightest bit of attitude, and there’s a certain sense of inadvertent sophistication oozing from the staunch blueprint, whilst not departing from any motif or protruding as an anomaly. Tamarind Seeds, midway through May, has established itself as one of my favourite outright tracks of 2013 thus far.

The record’s laid-back, lo-fi, psychedelic concept is the nucleus for the strength of its vibe, but influences and incorporations maintain Vacation’s relevance, and give it an unlikely sense of modernity. Pearl is a gentle breeze of pop-rock, while Brazilia, in turn with its title, integrates a bossa nova-like groove obtained from Adams’s time jamming in South America whilst on tour. It’s romantic, provocative, and still avoids being an anomaly. Brazilia is impressive in the fact that it manages to work without any hint of the seriousness that would usually be associated with such themes. Don’t Ever Get Old is a reversion back to the blueprint, before title track Vacation stands out as another highlight with more lusciously simple hooks and gentle harmonies that you’d love to serenade any vacation that you yourself ventured upon. Holy Roller trundles along and gives the first implications that the Vacation may be approaching its conclusion, and Workin’ arrives with a sense of finality, certitude and pensiveness that allows a reflection of the easy ride you’ve just had.

Vacation is the easiest listen I’ve had in a long time. It is the polar opposite of serious, and manages to escape without ripping off the fossilized sounds of 50 years ago, instead paying homage to them and staying relevant with an ongoing sense of modernity. The fact that this sense of modernity is achieved is something, as the template is pretty stringent. However, the incorporation of influences and palpitations are crucial to the album’s strength, and are worked in superbly. Song structures are simple but expertly executed, and I always like to make a comparison somewhere along the lines of… If The Black Keys were surfers, or The Beatles never achieved global stardom, this is something like what it would sound like. A lovely, lovely listen and a sure-fire 8 for connection alone. 80% to be precise!

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