When Blanko Basnet released its self-titled debut in the sweltering middle months of 2013, it was easy to mistake the songs for new Hammer No More the Fingers jams. After all, Blanko Basnet is a Joe Hall joint, and his singular playing style—built on a thickly sweet single-coil guitar tone, heavy use of extended chords, and a unique rhythmic approach—is one of the key building blocks for the idiosyncratic Durham indie rockers with the long name. When you hear Hall play the guitar, you know it's him. Given that and Hammer's egalitarian songwriting practice, it wasn't much of a stretch to guess that cuts from Blanko Basnet's first record could've been reclaimed pieces from Hammer's discard pile.
Ocean Meets the Animal, Hall's second effort as Blanko Basnet, still sounds like a lost Hammer record in passing glances, as with the buoyant "Berry" or "Mother." But the twelve-track collection is at its best when Hall works against his reflexes. The sun-kissed "Get Away" opens like a Sylvan Esso thumper before expanding to an easygoing pop lilt. The skittering "Minnow" is built on a delayed guitar pattern that creates its own rhythmic pull that works against the song's compound time signature. It's an alluring effect that elevates an otherwise fine song into a great one.
"K9 Haus" also uses delays to great ends, giving the acoustic-led instrumental a glitchtronic feel. On "Every Dollar," Hall chops his guitar riff to bits, giving it a keen atmospheric bent. The slow-burning, subtle "Yossarian" coaxes pad-like textures out of long reverb trails, deploying a simple but infectious groove accented with fascinating filigrees. On "All We Are," Hall weaves discursive melodic threads into a sweetly psychedelic polyrhythmic patchwork. It's aces.
Given how he plays the guitar and how he writes songs, anything Hall releases will probably bear at least some traceable link to Hammer No More the Fingers. But the adventurous leaps of Ocean Meets the Animal pay great dividends, extricating him from Hammer's orbit and further establishing him as one of the Triangle's sharpest songwriters. —Patrick Wall
Blanko Basnet plays a release party for Ocean Meets the Animal on Friday, March 16, at The Pinhook in Durham. Tickets are $5, and the show starts at 9 p.m. The Hot at Nights open.