TOP 10 BLANK LETTERS SONGS
Throughout their relatively short career, the Blank Letters only made three albums and a handful of promotional singles. Some fifty to fifty-five songs, depending on how you catalog live and alternate versions and all that. The first two studio albums, All Hail the Dirty Gods and All Your Wasted Days, remain, even years later, virtually flawless rock albums. Their last record, Knife Wounds – arguably a contractual release that their label, Geffen Records, hung over their heads – is a grandly flawed release with a few undeniably choice cuts. While some members went on to other music-related careers – bassist Arthur Renfrew and vocalist Katherine Moriarty notably both got into film scoring after the band broke up – others were not so fortunate. Matthew Coffin, the band’s fierce, slashing guitarist and principal songwriter, would take his own life some years after the band split, never releasing solo material. The band gave few interviews throughout their career. The Blank Letters are a band shrouded in mystery, and yet their catalog remains a near pitch-perfect blend of punk, indie, and unadorned, full-throated, relentlessly catchy rock music. They are profoundly missed. Below are the best ten songs – in this writer’s humble opinion – the band ever released across their discography.
All Hail the Dirty Gods (Slim Chance)
All Your Wasted Days (Geffen)
Knife Wounds (Geffen)
Singles & EPs
“All Hail the Dirty Gods” b/w “Upside Down”
(All Hail the Dirty Gods promotional single, Slim Chance)
“When the Bottom Drops Out” b/w “Sunshine” & “More to Come”
(All Your Wasted Days promotional single, Geffen)
“I Won’t Forget It” (Radio Edit) b/w “I Won’t Forget It” (Live) & “The Stuttering Guns” (Heavy Remix)
(All Your Wasted Days promotional single, Geffen)
“Gone Gone” b/w “All the Pretty Girls” & “Gone Gone” (Live)
(Knife Wounds promotional single, Geffen)
10) “Like An Arrow in Flight”
The album opener to All Hail the Dirty Gods, the song is a perfect encapsulation of what’s to come, and summates all of what makes the Blank Letters so great. Arthur Renfrew’s rumbling bass starts the song, with Doogy Almoth’s bright, snapping snare coming in soon after. By the time Katherine Moriarty sing/snarls her first lines – and with Matthew Coffin’s guitar not appearing until a minute and a half later, it’s clear that this is a band in which every instrument is integral, and that the snarling buoyancy of the songs is something that few groups can match.
9) “Halfway to Stray”
With approximately twenty-four seconds of honest to goodness ska in this song, while also a feverishly acerbic take on domestic violence and, in this reviewer’s opinion, Moriarty’s veiled take on the weight of motherhood, it’s a prefect distillation of what the band did so well – write tunes that were smart, cagey, intense, and fun. From Dirty Gods.
8) “Found Feral”
When Moriarty sings “Objects may be closer than they appear / Like the fear, the fear, the fear, the fear,” it reads, strangely, like a call to arms.
7) “The Stuttering Guns”
Politics in mainstream music is hard – few rock bands manage it. The Blank Letters, given their upbringing in the DIY ethos of punk, cut their teeth on it, and it shows in a song like this, where Moriarty simultaneously namedrops Sadr City and laments the vast disconnect between being an occupying force at war while also being ensconced and insulated in first-world problems. The remix version in particular, a B-side for the “I Won’t Forget It” single, brings the low end up to the front and adds an extra menacing quality.
6) “All Hail the Dirty Gods”
Title track to the first record, and the only song that all four members sing on, with Renfrew, Almoth, and Coffin each getting their own line in each of the song’s chorus. Stupidly catchy.
5) “(Baby, You’re) Too Taut”
An old, very early song that Coffin was in the process of reworking for Knife Wounds, it never made it past this demo version before the band’s immolation, but Renfrew and Almoth’s rhythm section is as tight as ever here. A speedy, sneering, blitzkrieg homage of sorts to early UK punk/pub rock, bringing to mind bands like Eater and Slaughter & The Dogs, it reminds listeners that at their core, and in spite of their differences, the band had an absolute blast doing this stuff. When they were on, they were unstoppable.
4) “When the Bottom Drops Out”
The Blank Letters, for all their buoyancy and energy, were never terribly inventive in the sense that they had a formula and they stuck to it. Such inventiveness might have appeared in later records, had they made it that far – both Moriarty and Renfrew were clearly talented composers, as shown by their work in film and television scores – but the band moored themselves firmly in a kind of miasmic hybrid of punk, indie rock, and what was, at the time, the death knells of “alternative music.” This song, though – again, another Knife Wounds cut – brings them as close to a ballad as they ever managed. Coffin’s acoustic guitar, layered toward the end with a searing, mournful electric solo, lends a solemnity that they hardly ever reached for, and it’s wildly successful. And Moriarty’s vocals, damn. “Just cut the heartstrings and get on with it.” It was a risky move for Geffen to make this the first single for Wasted Days, but it paid off; the song was all over the radio, and the band would close out with the one-two punch of this and “I Won’t Forget It” in their live shows for years.
3) “All the Pretty Girls”
A rare Knife Wounds track that was recorded in a decent studio and isn’t a demo or live version, “All the Pretty Girls” is also the B-side to the “Gone Gone” single, the only single that Geffen promoted for the record. “All the Pretty Girls” is fully formed from the first chord – and well-recorded, which can’t be said for the entire album, given its tinny production and varying noise levels, as the mastering job was sub-par and the band was already disintegrating at the time. A fierce punk number that harkens back to the band’s Dirty Gods era, it’s a fever-blast of unbridled ferocity, and another tune penned entirely by Katherine Moriarty. Fans have long surmised that it may be a song about husband/guitarist Matthew Coffin’s possible infidelities: “You wake to sheets tangled like tourniquets / Bloody elbows, rain and traffic / The radio says there’ll be no respite / And all the pretty girls in the world won’t save you now.”
2) “Shock and Awful”
From Wasted Days, and, like “The Stuttering Guns,” “Shock and Awful” denotes one of the Letters’ more pointed forays into stridently political music. One could argue that all of their work is political to some degree, given the personal urgency of Moriarty’s lyrics and the topics she tackles – but “Shock and Awful” is a knife blade to the relative shotgun blast of “The Stuttering Guns.” When she mentions “boundless drone wars” and “laser guidance,” it’s one of few instances this author can recall that such things are being addressed in what would become a platinum-selling record. And as Moriarty closes out the song with the repeated bridge: “God is capricious / God is a gunship / God moved out and took all of his shit,” it’s hard not to feel exultant in that abandonment.
1) “I Won’t Forget It”
In this author’s opinion?Easily the best Blank Letters song, and one of the greatest rock songs of the past fifty years. When Moriarty sings “All the gods bent down / Down on a wing / And offered me a choice, to either choke or sing / And I spit in their eye and said ‘It’s the same goddamned thing,’ it is vindication and repudiation and incantation all at once. The type of song that makes you just feel tougher, stronger, just by hearing it. Two minutes and thirty-nine seconds of perfection.
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