Ben Yost thoughtfully constructs personal vignettes of self-empowerment.
“There’s a quote from Ezra Pound where he says, ‘The image is more than an idea. It is a vortex or cluster of fused ideas and is endowed with energy.’ The mission of my writing is to use imagery,” said Yost, who’s inspired by the late 20th century American poet’s development of imagism, a movement that stressed the precision and economy of language.
Alongside Blank Tape Tax bassist Hayley McNichol, Yost employs astute, concise lyrics and raw, brisk instrumentation to address internal challenges with mental health, relationships and loss. While only 21 minutes long, Plastic Vapid Sexual Cool provides a detailed analysis beneath the surface.
“‘Hospital’ is about me having a mental breakdown, but it’s also about a number of other things,” Yost said. “I have my interpretation as the author, but you, the listener, may have another interpretation based on the words, and your interpretation is just as valid an interpretation as mine is.”
Hospitals and Paragraphs
As the album’s honest opener, “Hospital” deeply chronicles the thoughts, feelings and experiences of someone struggling with Bipolar 1 disorder and pandemic-induced solitude.
Swift and folky acoustic guitar, fiery electric guitar, frantic bass, clobbering drums and smashing cymbals release the emotional floodgates as Yost sings, “Behind every wall/Is a growling, grumbling soul/He asks me what I want to be/And I just say I want to be nothing, nothing at all.”
“You have to think of it as like analyzing modern poetry and symbolism,” he said. “It’s channeling the isolation that people feel. I wrote it during the pandemic and wanted to channel the aloneness that I felt as the pandemic was happening.”
“Hospital” also includes the album’s intriguing Plastic Vapid Sexual Cool title as the opening lyric in its closing verse. It addresses the harsh truths of living in today’s fear-ridden society, yet removes the narration from reality.
“If you imagine this place that’s being described as the institution, the hospital, the school or a microcosm of society, oftentimes, people can be critical of society as being overly sexualized, overly plastic and overly vapid. And then, ‘cool’ is sarcastic,” Yost said.
“It’s not even about the literal meaning of the words … it’s about the feeling of the imagery. It’s about the place that your mind goes when you hear those words and those scenes being described.”
Blank Tape Tax brings additional descriptive elements to “John Brannon,” a succinct, refreshing ode to authenticity and a stellar tribute to the iconic Negative Approach and Easy Action frontman.
Backed by antsy electric guitar, intrepid bass, thumping drums and crashing cymbals, Yost sings:
“Jenny is an astronaut/She works inside my local record shop/Green walls, plaster, paint, posters, cassette tapes and baseball cards/Jenny is a school teacher/He has a pocket mirror and no wristwatch/Jenny is a mom, Jenny is a dad, Jenny is a cop/But John Brannon is an outlaw.”
“Negative Approach has a song called ‘Why Be Something That You’re Not’ … that’s all they needed to say. It’s just about celebrating who you are and being happy with who you are,” he said.
“I’m also a big fan of Negative Approach, Easy Action and John Brannon’s other bands. One of the first seven-inches I ever bought was one by Negative Approach when I was in middle school. It was the first time I had ever heard a nine-second song.”
While it’s longer than nine seconds, Blank Tape Tax’s “I Want to Be a Paragraph” spotlights leaving a lasting impression through artistic brevity. Fuzzy electric guitar, throbbing bass, walloping drums and ricocheting cymbals echo Yost’s sentiments as he sings:
“Writing burning learning/Lost a lot with no time to lose/I make a note of it/The next day I make some food/Some days I look at pictures to pick me up when I’m in a mood/Some days I just set fires/It’s my life’s work/I got something to prove.”
“For me, it’s about wanting to leave something behind that’s greater than myself. I think that’s a big part of the reason that writers write is because they’re narcissistic,” said Yost with a laugh.
“That song is also one of my favorites on the album. There’s a little bit at the end where Hayley does vocals that sort of intertwine with mine. Hayley wrote all those lyrics, and it sounds great and runs together perfectly.”
A New Era
Yost started creating the perfect sound with McNichol last year and invited the Bombastic Dream Pussy frontperson to join Blank Tape Tax as their new bassist. At the time, Yost wanted to shift the band’s current jazz-folk-hip-hop fusion sound back to its punk-rock roots.
“I had heard about Hayley through the grapevine, and I remember being impressed with an EP they did called Spaghetti House. I thought to myself, ‘I really want to work with this person.’ Fast forward a little bit, I played a house show and Hayley came, but I didn’t really talk to them,” Yost said.
“Then, fast forward a little more, I think Hayley contacted me about playing drums for Bombastic Dream Pussy, but that never really panned out. Instead, what ended up happening was I recruited Hayley to play bass for me.”
With McNichol on board, Blank Tape Tax spent two days this past winter recording the 10 tracks for Plastic Vapid Sexual Cool at Ferndale’s Tempermill Studio. They worked with engineer Jake Shives to record and mix the album while Dave Feeny mastered it.
“At the beginning of the year, we got prepared to record in January and February,” Yost said. “At the end of February, we got to record, and then in March, we mixed and mastered … and then we built up the plans for a recent run of shows that we’ve been doing.”
Thursday, June 16 | 8 p.m. doors & 8:30 p.m. music
Aretha’s Jazz Café (inside Music Hall), 350 Madison St. in Detroit
Tickets: $5 at the door