Welcome to the era of the endless scroll. A world where our cities are museums, our streets exhibitions. Our lives are glass boxes, always on display. If it sounds like a nightmare, it's more like reality.
Imprisoned in our homes by a pandemic and pained by the political undercurrent, our reliance on social media accelerated. You'd likely be lying to yourself if you said your average screen time didn't increase as your mental health struggled more.
A band all too familiar with this era are Blackpool's Blanket. Appalled as much as they are inspired by social media, their second album 'Modern Escapism' is an exploration of voyeurism in the modern age set to a backdrop of lulling shoegaze and apocalyptic post-metal.
"A lot of the lyrics are from a perspective of someone looking through a window into someone else's life," explains guitarist and vocalist Bobby Pook, sheltering from grey Britain's bad weather in his home, adding: "It's about those little hits of dopamine when other people like your social media posts."
It's a sentiment the band all share, and they're aware they're part of the problem, as bassist Matthew Sheldon asserts: "It's an odd world, and we're all guilty of taking part in it." It's a catch-22, as Bobby adds, "the weirdest thing about it all is we're a band in 2021, so we're always posting on social media."
'Modern Escapism' is an album all about social media. The complexities it creates, the mentalities it erodes. It's an album born out of a time where a pandemic put a world behind self-imposed bars. An album, it seems, inspired by the way we tore down barriers of communication by enhancing our reliance on a single platform.
"Everyone in the world suddenly had some sort of social media channel that they were putting out to people so they could talk to them because they couldn't actually socialise anymore," explains Matthew, in awe as much as in uproar at the situation. "It became this thing of creating some sort of false image of whatever you were doing to then project onto others and then watch everybody else's, and that became a form of socialising all of a sudden."
Finding comfort in the binge-watching habits we've all been guilty of over the last eighteen months, they found their fascination with social media growing stronger through a series of films and documentaries. The Truman Show. Requiem For A Dream. Voyeur.
It's the latter that forms the very foundation of 'Modern Escapism' as an album. The documentary tells the tale of an American motel owner who documents his guests most private moments from the motel attic. It sent the band into a frenzy of ideas.
"We had this discussion about how everyone is looking at other people's lives a lot and not concentrating on their own happiness and mental health," admits Bobby.
This air of sadness and this spark of discussion came from a single WhatsApp group chat that ultimately gave way to the title of 'Modern Escapism' and what it truly means to them. As Matthew explains: "It's talking about modern voyeurism and modern escapism, and what that is. It's about social media and the way we all obsess over each other's lives, wanting instant validation and instant gratification."
The album's themes feed through everything they do. Its artwork – a brutalist building blocked out in a single square, with no words – and its accompanying visuals are built from the existential pondering our social media obsessions have spurred on.
"The whole idea of it being a building is a representation of the way we're looking into other people's lives. It's making social media physical as if you're standing outside a building looking in at all these different people's lives," explains Matthew, with Bobby quickly chiming in, clearly impressed by their own meta-layering.
"We wanted it to be a tower block so it's kind of off centre and very simplistic and harsh-looking. Even the music videos are designed to have an insight into what is supposed to be this tower bloc. We shot a lot of it in an abandoned hotel in Blackpool, so the inside of the hotel became the inside of this brutalist tower block."
In contrast to the brutalist slabs of concrete and their conceptual world creates, Blanket's musical direction is as colourful as it's ever been. Embarking on an evolutionary journey since 2018's 'How To Let Go,' 'Modern Escapism' sees them submit to outside influences such as post-hardcore and shoegaze. However, they had a whole different album in the can before shelving it in search of something else.
"A lot of it was coming out like Circa Survive, and then a lot of it was coming out like Bon Iver and the more experimental Kanye West and Frank Ocean records," explains Bobby, adding: "It was all a bit indecisive, we just didn't know what it wanted to be musically, so we had to have that discussion."
It's a discussion that led to them starting from scratch. They found themselves still departing from the safety of the sound they'd built, but in a completely different direction. One inspired by an influence that felt far more complementary to their post-rock roots.
"Deftones is an obvious inspiration for these new songs, like a lot of the inspiration for me writing from home was those 90s shoegaze bands, but really heavy. Deftones themselves can be fairly shoegaze on certain albums, and bands like Nothing as well, they heavily inspired my vocal style; it's supposed to be a texture."
As 'Modern Escapism' doubles up as that 'difficult second album', there's an element of risk to shaking up a sound that works. It's something they spent a lot of time struggling with until they gave in to their own creative urges.
"We've always respected and loved bands that do those crazy changes album to album, like Dillinger Escape Plan being an obvious one for me. I didn't like some of their albums that they bought out later on, but I really respected that they just completely changed."
"Why release the same record over and over again? It doesn't make sense as an artist to stay inspired and to stay playing those songs live. You play the same songs for a year; by that point, you're kind of done with them. You don't want to get like some bands and start having the same banter every night and the same sets. Thin Lizzy literally played 'Live and Dangerous', like the exact same show with the same banter between songs for 10 years. Heroin will do that to a band, though."
Blanket, whether they're wary of becoming caricatures of Phil Lynott delivering boring stage banter or simply inspired by shifting their sound station-to-station, they continue to evolve. In the era of the endless scroll, if any album can document the trials and tribulations of our obsession with other people's lives, 'Modern Escapism' is the answer.
Taken from the October issue of Upset. Blanket's album 'Modern Escapism' is out now.
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