Great music always reminds you of something else. It has the ability to join dots, to create lateral thought processes seemingly appear out of nothing. When BlackBoxRed’s new release started to make inroads on my psyche I quickly thought of a passage in Julian Cope’s autobiography, Head On where Copey, watching the first Granada performance of Joy Division is totally blown away by what he assumed would be just a Warsaw reboot with a name change. But as Cope spluttered, Joy Division’s televised appearance was an epiphany, “an event”.
And so is this record. Albeit an event that has seemingly come out to little acclaim. I can sort of understand that. Frisian duo BlackBoxRed were always a rock band that I theoretically enjoyed live but could never really get a grip on. Previous recorded efforts sounded forced, maybe too produced, slick, nervous maybe of making a splash. But as said, this is something else entirely. Salt in My Eyes is is a monster of a rock record, grooving mightily on an inner plane and displaying the sort of hard-baked bravado of Sleater Kinney and Babes in Toyland, and often absurdly but beautifully trying out the metal raga of Motörhead or Kyuss for size (listen to the tail out on ‘Lights’). I have to keep pinching myself it’s that very same boy-girl duo from Friesland.
What is truly great about this record, though, is its sense of space. It is a gargantuan release, made all the more so by being a set of totally unexpected forays into a rock interzone that never feels forced or fake or mannered. The guitars knock out some glorious choruses (the guitar line in ‘Pelts’ is just superb) and singer/guitarist Eva van Netten’s intonation takes on a pleading, prophetic quality; her voice sounds distant but this distance often gives an authority to the tracks that is impossible to fake. The band must have dug deep to record this.
Some of these tracks are rock anthems, then, clarion calls, with the band calling on an elemental spirit to drive mid-paced tracks like ‘Gtorori’ and determined rockers ‘Gladiator’ to where they should be, the latter – as hinted beforehand – being on the point of beating down Sleater Kinney’s door. Then there are tracks like ‘I Await’, ‘Lights’ and ‘Sanguine’, which are full to bursting with previously unseen power and poise. They shock with their sure-footedness, leaving this listener to wonder, where is that artsy, slightly careful band previously known as BlackBoxRed? Did someone lock them in a cupboard?
Regardless, it’s worth turning the noise up on these tracks, especially ‘I Await’, which is a howling, thunderous beast that threatens to blow the house down. Especially the lung-shredding refrain, which is a thrilling tightrope walk between completely losing it and deliberately applying the pressure. The last track ‘Sirens’ ramps up the confusion by being a weird stomp, part dirge, part Oompa Loompa chorus (that is, if the Oompa Loompas were all rockers.)
There are times where I am forcibly reminded of the noisier or cleverer Dutch underground bands; which shouldn’t really be a surprise. The great, stop-start slowie known as ‘I’m Too Sad to Tell You’, for instance, is a great rock take of what fellow Frisian Zea does, namely repeat a simple, stripped back melody line and allow the silence build up the tension. Here there is more echo and richness in contrast to Zea’s more reflective approach. Van Netten draws on the gothicke in spades, constructing psycho-drama by the bucketload. Elsewhere, the opener and single ‘Julie’ has that boyish sugar rush of early WOLVON and second track ‘Deer’ blossoms into a glorious, phased drop that leads into a tais out driven by what is too all intents and purposes Katadreuffe’s multi-layered guitar sound. It’s a glorious trick. How assured they sound.
BlackBoxRed seem to have found a space, unbeknownst to anyone here in the Netherlands, and use it to create a sonic worldview in a full-on rock record that more affected, or fashion-conscious acts will find nigh on impossible to beat. Quietly amazing. This is a superb release, warts and all.