Saturday, December 20, 2014
Black Tambourine - Black Tambourine
Slumberland Records SLR 111
Enough with the Christmas records and the obituaries, I feel like rocking out. I suppose some people might question my choice of Black Tambourine to rock out with, they were hardly Black Sabbath or Black Flag, but I like them better than either. Their noisy, shoegaze inspired pop gets me bopping better than any punk or heavy metal band ever could. This is an expanded version of the 1999 compilation album "Complete Recordings" and if you have that record you might be wondering if you need to upgrade. Yes, you do. It features 6 additional tracks, two demos and four 2009 recordings of songs from their original repertoire that they never recorded. Plus it is on glorious vinyl in a handsome gatefold sleeve with lots of pics and a discography on the inner sleeve. I was completely unaware of the group during their brief existence in the early 1990s. When I heard them on college radio several years later, I fell for them hard. The album opens with "For Ex-Lovers Only" off of their 1992 EP "Audrey's Diary." The song is an unhappy conversation between a couple breaking up messily. The discord in the song is reinforced by the band's noisy guitars roaring in the background. "Black Car" is driven by more distorted guitar noise over which Pam Berry croons dreamy romantic lyrics about an inability to connect with her lover. The song comes from the bands self-titled 1991 EP. "Pack You Up" comes from the same EP and it is a forceful rocker over which the band adds layers of distortion. The harsh music reflects the bitter and vindictive lyrics describing a nasty break up. Next up is a cover of Love's classic folk-rock song "Can't Explain" from "Audrey's Diary." The song is taken at a slower pace than Love's version but sounds somewhat similar aside from all the noise the band piles on top of the original riff. "I Was Wrong" was recorded in 1990 but first appeared on "Complete Recordings." It sounds more stripped down than the other songs, perhaps it was unfinished. It is decidedly lo-fi, Berry's vocal is so murky I can't even understand what she is singing about. The song is poppy and has a lot of energy, it reminds me of the Shop Assistants. "Throw Aggi Off the Bridge" is my favorite Black Tambourine song and originally appeared on "Audrey's Diary." Aggi evidently refers to Aggi Wright of the Scottish band the Pastels. The song is a love song to Stephen Pastel encouraging him to get rid of Wright so he and Berry can be a couple. The song is driven by a powerful bass riff upon which the band tosses some raucous guitar work. The song features one of Berry's best vocals. You'll never hear a more sweetly sung paean to murder. I adore the Pastels and I find it immensely charming that the group wrote a song about them. "Drown" has an old fashioned romantic pop style tune reminiscent of early 1960s girl groups. The band tones down the noise a little to emphasize the beauty of the song, but although the song sounds romantic, the lyrics are a cool kiss-off to an ex-lover who left her but now wants to be with her again. The song was on the 1991 EP. "We Can't Be Friends" is very similar to "Drown" dismissing an ex-lover who wants to be friends. It is a hard-driving slice of jangle pop with the usual cacophonous treatment that appeared on a 1992 compilation CD called "One Last Kiss." "By Tomorrow" is another song off the 1991 EP. It is a treat-me-right-or-I'll-leave you type song. The song starts off with a subdued jangle pop sound and then erupts into a loud rave-up. "Pam's Tan" was the first song that the band recorded. It appeared on a Slumberland comp in 1989. It is a short instrumental recorded without Berry. According to the liner notes she was in England buying records at the time, my kind of gal. It is followed by the demo versions of "For Ex-Lovers Only" and "Throw Aggi Off the Bridge" recorded in 1990. The former track is more subdued than the release version but the demo of "Aggi" is spectacular. It is at least as good as the release version, it sounds even more crazed and energetic than that version although I don't like that Berry's vocal is buried so deep in the mix. The album concludes with the four new songs which blend in so seamlessly with the rest of the album that it is hard to believe they were recorded nearly 20 years after the original sessions. "Heartbeat" is a fast paced, feedback laden cover of the Buddy Holly classic. "Lazy Heart" has a dynamic bass riff propelling it forward with the guitars making a racket on top of it. Even though these four new songs were recorded in professional studios, "Lazy Heart" sounds even murkier than the songs they recorded in their basement. In true shoegaze fashion, I can't understand Berry's reverb heavy vocal at all. The punchy, hard-rocking "Tears of Joy" isn't much clearer but I love it anyway. It sounds like a cross between the Jam and the Primitives recorded underwater. The album concludes with a cover of Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream" which is a little less noisy than the other tracks although still pure dream pop. It gives the album a nice elegant finish. There you have it, a fantastic compilation of the best American shoegaze band. If you have any appetite for this kind of music, I can't recommend this record enough. It has spent a lot of time on my turntable the past few years and that is not going to change anytime soon. Recommended to fans of Slowdive who wish they played faster.