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On the rack

Brooklyn's Blood on the Wall isn't as dark as you think

There's a place for challenging music and, no, it's not called the trashcan. Music fanatics need precious psychedelic folk and experimental post-rock like some women need $400 stilettos; they aren't always comfortable, but they sure are a conversation piece.

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Some bands, however, just feel comfortably lived in, blurring the line between vintage and contemporary like a peerless pair of versatile blue jeans. From the past, tinny Canadian Sonic Youth homage Eric's Trip springs to mind. Now New York trio Blood on the Wall lives on that lovingly frayed line, threading the bleary caterwauling hallmarks of late '80s/early '90s reconstituted college rawk in to 14 punchy nuggets on the band's appropriately named sophomore album, Awesomer.

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Brother and sister team Brad and Courtney Shanks — two of the three points that support the Blood on the Wall triangle — know all about complementary genes and nostalgia. Only two years apart, the siblings spent formative years turning each other on to bands from Butthole Surfers to the Flaming Lips to Led Zeppelin to Pavement while growing up in Kansas City, Kan. Following a stint at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Courtney (the older of the two) decided to move to New York City to escape small-town monotony/mentality.

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Courtney landed in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, home to several of the stiletto heels of the indie rawk world, and ended up hanging out within the phantasmagorical asylum of musically nomadic hipster savants including Black Dice, Gang Gang Dance and Animal Collective.

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"Saying it's a 'scene' gives it these social connotations like high school, which is weird," says Shanks by phone from Rejoice Exchange, the vintage clothing store she and Brad own and operate in Brooklyn. "It's more friends. We share way more beers than we do ideas about recording or stages. I just value everyone's opinion and think it's super cool to be around people who like and introduce so many different kinds of music into the mix."

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Having played bass guitar along to Bo Diddley since she was 14 and already recording her own demos in her Brooklyn apartment, Courtney dangled the idea of forming a band as a means to coax Brad, a longtime guitarist, to leave Lawrence to join her in New York. Both already authored songs (who wrote what is overtly indicated on Awesomer by whomever is singing), so the final of the vertices was a drummer. Courtney was already a friend of Miggy Littleton (a "wanted man," according to Shanks, already active in Ida and White Magic, among other bands) from around the city, and with his stellar drumming and arrangement skills recruited, Blood on the Wall coagulated.

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"Once Miggy was in, instead of getting drunk at a bar we'd get some 40s and go to a practice space and play," says Shanks. "Only after a year did we decide to make a show or recording; that stuff was almost secondary to hanging out, playing some of the, like, 4,000 records we have between us."

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All those soused slabs of crackling influence are condensed into Awesomer. Like the way the Shanks vintage store was started half-full and has since bulged with finds brought in from around the country, the music of Blood on the Wall is juiced up by two decades of seething musical shreds ready to wear. The reedy sneer of the Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano and Pixies' (Frank) Black Francis meets the prosaic phrasing of Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon in hyperactive come-ons. Splayed melodies taken from atonal archetypes the Jesus and Mary Chain can be found in Blood on the Wall's music, as well as unhinged haze like Yo La Tengo covering the Runaways covering Sabbath and Siouxsie Sioux — but all sincerely skewed.

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"We play our instruments the way some people walk the street, maybe kicking their right foot out further than 'usual' just because that's the shape they walk," says Shanks. "It's still walking but recognizable as us.

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"We don't analyze stuff that much, or try to craft specific things because that wouldn't be any fun anymore," concludes Shanks. "It's like how I can still get lost in New York, ending up somewhere that is sort of familiar but confuses me. It's an exhilarating feeling to still be able to do that after nine years here, and music is fun because it also lets me get lost, go to a crazy place in my head. Yeah, it's some familiar streets but I'm still walking down them my way."