Mike Sniper’s Captured Tracks label has quickly become the Promised Land for lo-fi garage talent and the best bedroom artists around. He must be proud, although we’ll never know because the allusive man they call Blank Dogs is even more reluctant to chat than his head shots suggest
“I’ve never been anonymous,” insists Mike Sniper, founder of Brooklyn label Captured Tracks. “I just don’t see the point in blabbing about myself and trying to get photos all over the place.”
Right. So calling your own one-man-band Blank Dogs is not some conscious statement about how identity is irrelevant to art then? Silence. And your band press shots, that all show your face obscured by jumpers and scarves, they’re you ‘not blabbing’ about yourself? Nothing. Even though those who hate self-congratulatory popstars the most, would surely not deny a musician the right to appear in their own promotional pictures? Nadda.
The nothingness that greets our questioning is not due to Sniper being plain rude, or the fact that he can’t hear us for all the cloth pressing into his ears, but rather because we’re posing them to a lifeless computer screen, having just read an email from the New Yorker. After a chat on the phone failed to happen, email was the only remaining option but we just had to quiz this man who has quickly become the soothsayer of new lo-fi talent. His answers are short, direct and, true to the form of digital interaction, anonymous despite protest. Exactly what we expected, so God knows why we’re so disappointed.
‘Under And Under’, Blank Dogs’ debut album, is no doubt soon to top certain hyperactive Album of The Year polls, and not unjustly. A swathe of muddy vocals and fuzzy, gothy riffs, it’s how Wavves’ disappointing release could have sounded if main man Nathan Williams had obsessed over The Cure instead of Blink 182. But it’s Sniper’s record label that really interests us. Soon to be the home of Leeds’ ghost-surf wonderkid Spectrals (his Phil Spector-ish debut album is being released on the label in early 2010), and already the households of US buzz-types Dum Dum Girls, Woods and Brilliant Colors (all of whom walk the distorted, DIY garage line with excitable aplomb), it’s the first stop for new sounds that’ll go on to fellate the ear canals of Pitchfork Media.
“Myself”, is who Sniper looks most forward to working with next year, while a passing probe into when we can expect another Blank Dogs record gets the comparatively rambling response of, “I’ve been working on new material for a while, not trying to rush it. I’m trying to get a different sound on there.”
What makes him sign the bands he does? They are, after all, very similar in their aesthetic, influences and scrappy sounds.
“I like them all.”
Hmmm. Interesting. Would you ever sign something a little more electronic? Or pop? A Cheeky Girl? Sorry, the computer can’t talk back!
Here’s a fun one though – If you had to choose between Captured Tracks or Blank Dogs, which would it be?
“No way am I answering that.”
“Not blabbing” clearly does mean remaining anonymous, or allusive at best‚” to the point of frustration, even. But Captured Tracks remains a new label with a passion and taste that rubs off with every release they put out. It’s admittedly a very specific taste (I think we already knew the answer to ‘would you ever sign something a little more electronic?’) and that Sniper is reluctant to show his hand suggests just how good it is. And, on a couple of points, he does let his hands type wildly to share his views‚” sort of.
“Is that argument still happening?” he questions of the ‘aren’t all record labels fucked?’ query. “I don’t see it at all. The old paradigm, a warehouse full of CD’s and a large staff, that’s what should go away. The large overhead and all, that’s the fate of these labels. We sell a ton of vinyl, and we do OK with CD’s too, we’re just not dependent on them. Some people will always enjoy the tactile experience of physical music, and I’ve noticed it’s mostly younger people buying it. So, that’s a good sign.”
Largely though, we’re left to imagine how and why Captured Tracks began; what being a faceless bedroom artist-come-Brooklyn-label-boss is really like; how it feels to have your work admired without anyone knowing what lies beneath those bandages.
Being anonymous takes effort, and Mike Sniper was never going to admit that anything he does takes effort. Because nothing he does seems to… except maybe holding a conversation.
Three bands that Sniper lets do the talking for him
Toronto duo The Bitters call the racket they make ‘cave pop’, most probably because their treble-heavy sound could well have been recorded in the side of a mountain while bats circle overhead. Guitarist Ben Cook’s day job is shredding about with Fucked Up, while the cracked-yet-sweet vocals of drummer Aerin Fogel are kept busy with her solo, ghostly folk project. Together, in the form of The Bitters though, they’ve given Captured Tracks their best release yet – the ‘Wooden Glove’ EP, featuring ‘Warrior’, which particularly rattles along to the finest of melodies.
The German Measles
Found closer to Sniper’s back garden, The German Measles are a Brooklyn party band for anyone that’s no longer shocked/amused/offended by Black Lips pissing in their own mouths. They sing songs like ‘Wild Weekend’, which sweetly jangles like early Beatles but features the opening line “Come on baby and party with me/Take some drugs and party with me.” Their new ‘Wild’ EP is less reinventing the wheel and more taking it around your mate’s, plying it with spiked punch and trying to put its willy through the hold in the middle. It is, however, a lot of fun and urine free.
A majority of War’s recent debut album, ‘New Raytheonport’, sounds like it’s been recorded under a sea of Absinthe, but its eerie weirdness harbours an addictive personality. And it makes sense that War also collaborates with Sniper on side project Roman Soldiers – his budget TASCAM recordings are odd and fuzzy: neither a completely pleasurable easy listen, nor an irritating bind. Heavily into reverb, War’s ethereal vocals and woozy sounds are how he’s become the most experimental act from the Capture Tracks stable while so many are ‘meat’n’potatoes’ garage rock.
Originally published in issue 11 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. October 2009