Review: Don Blake- Pocket Universe (Round Dog)

Posted: April 28, 2015 in Reviews

Don Blake "Pocket Universe" cover art

After having released a couple of EPs and a 7” split (with the awesome Andrew Cream), this is the first full-length from relatively new, Manchester-based pop-punk outfit Don Blake. They play pop-punk in a more-or-less straight-forward way, which is refreshing to hear in 2015 when ‘the scene’ is largely dominated by gruff vocals and self-deprecating lyrics. I mean, I enjoy a ton of bands that would fit into that neat stereotype, but there are only so many Dear Landlord wanna-bes you can hear. I also like that while Don Blake’s style is straightforward, it manages to avoid the trappings or monotony of Ramones-y pop-punk. Pocket Universe is varied and certainly never boring, mixing up catchy, sugar-y fast-paced Lookout-style pop-punk, with a more subtle, mid-tempo brand of ‘noise-pop’ (their term, not mine).

I would not say that anything that Don Blake do is particularly unique or ‘wow’, but they do avoid most of the obvious labelling of the genre, testament to their songwriting talent. I guess they are influenced by the ‘90s pop-punk scene, but no-one in particular really: a little bit of early Green Day, a little bit of MTX perhaps (I certainly notice a lyrical influence from Dr. Frank and that can only be a good thing). What makes Don Blake stand out, apart from their ability to write a variety of songs, is their wonderful melodies and vocal harmonies, which they match really well with the high-tempo nature of the music, best heard in “Existential Horror” (my personal highlight of the album) or the blink-and-you’ll-miss it “Where Else Would I Wanna Be?” To me, this style recalls early Team Stray or perhaps under-appreciated fellow UK pop-punkers Mike TV. It is kind of rare in the genre for the vocal harmonies to come through so well. I like that the vocals are kind of gloomy and deep too (without being overly so); think Dan Vapid with a Mancunian accent.

I must say that what I had heard from Don Blake before on their EP collection, I thought was just ok, but Pocket Universe has certainly made me sit up and listen. It may be that I appreciate their older stuff better now, but I do feel that they have matured somewhat on the new album and gone up a fellow levels song-writing-wise. The pensive lyrics on this thing are just fantastic, especially the way that the album culminates with 4-minute (!!) epic “We Can try”: “Make our own pocket universe, oh we can try”. It has some beautiful, slowed-down melodies and a catchy lead guitar. The length of “We Can Try” compared to the rest of the album (most songs hover around the 1:30 mark) reminds me of the way The Kimberley Steaks ended their first album, and like their fellow label mates, Don Blake are producing healthy, fresh, melodically-driven pop-punk that may not be ‘cool’, but is certainly exciting.

Listen here: http://rounddogrecords.bandcamp.com/album/don-blake-pocket-universe

DB

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