In a world where MySpace plays count more than tour bus mileage and blog leaks spread faster than word of mouth, the Blakes, who gained attention after a series of reputably chaotic cross-country tours, are relative anachronisms. Despite receiving the cold shoulder from a blogosphere more inclined to buzz about the latest noise-pop bedroom sensation than extend a towel to wipe the Blakes’ sweating brow, the traveling musical railroad men—bassist Snow Klein, guitarist Garnet Klein (yes they’re brothers), and drummer Bob Husak—have kept their backs to the grind anyways. In just the past few years, the Blakes have shoveled enough gritty, asphalt-melting garage-pop into their well-oiled touring engine to finally earn themselves a record deal, an artist of the day slot in Spin magazine, and one of the top ten records of 2007, according to iTunes voters. Now with four full lengths (three self-released) and a handful of EPs to their name, that sweat-inducing work ethic appears to have paid off. On Souvenir, the Seattle-based trio finally clean up their dirt-dragged riff rock and demonstrate an impressive knowledge of their musical roots.
From Mick Jagger to Iggy Pop, the Blakes retread all the bases their fans will have come to expect on Souvenir, while still elbowing out their sound enough to make room for a few Edge-channeling guitar bursts, a piano ballad out of Sir Paul’s playbook, and a rhythm section to rival the Clash. Among their contemporaries, the Blakes have carved out a space in modern rock somewhere between the twitching, minimalist hooks of the Strokes and the black-eyed bravado of Spoon. Rather than cheekily cop the sound of your favorite band, though, the Blakes spread their influences thin enough across the snarky garage-pop sound honed on their self-titled debut that Souvenir never really goes stale.
Beat-keeper Husak is the unsung hero of the whole affair, pounding the skins with the relentless pulse of a train engine. Confident but never flashy, Husak’s consistent stick-work unifies even the most disparate portions of Souvenir, pushing the potential slow-burners “Tommy” and “Magic” into uptempo foot-tappers while drawing in the reins on the wilder numbers. Despite sharing vocal duties with his brother on previous outings, Snow mostly takes a backseat to Garnet’s sandpaper-scratched howl on Souvenir, to surprisingly great effect. Snow’s silver-throated oohs and ahhs are the perfect foil to Garnet’s raspy growl, lending a haunting atmosphere to “Charmed” and buoying the breezy groove of “Basket”, both album standouts.
For the work of a band whose name stems from a dream in which a member exchanged pleasantries with the 18th century poet William Blake, the lyrics are the only real disappointment on “Souvenir”. Fueled by gas fumes, cheap whiskey, and pretty girls, the Blakes do homage to the god of rambling, vagabond, spit-fire rock-star types without really bringing anything new to the altar. Fortunately hoarse-throated kiss-offs and hormone-drunk hollering don’t take away from the thrashers “Move to the City” and “Batista”, but on the mellower midtempo grooves, the lyrics never amount to more than bit players to the riffs. “I don’t know what I’ve read / Everyone says the strangest things in their head”, Garnet Keim sings enigmatically on “Basket”, a good song that, with a sharper pen, could have been great. Elsewhere, the Blakes rely on sounding bad-ass without really saying much of anything, which is just fine when the hooks are this good.