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Tarnation – Mirador

March 3, 2010 1 comment

Reprise Records, 1997

A fellow DJ helpfully prodded me towards giving a spin of Tarnation a try and I belatedly thank him now for doing so. Tarnation is a wonderful, under-appreciated band that doesn’t sound like it is from this era. I vaguely remembered this fact when I found their second release amidst the cheap stacks and swiftly took it home with me. Sometimes all it takes is a band name to gamble your money on.

Tarnation is a moody sort of band that emits a midwestern feel and a sense of loneliness.  This may mostly be due to the fact that Paula Frazer’s voice is strong and yet beautifully wilting.  Her periodic long cries as well as her tone of a knowing storyteller gives one a mental image of a silhouetted gunslinger riding slowly towards nowhere on the edge of a hill during sunset.  No I’m serious, I get that sometimes.  “An Awful Shade of Blue”, while on the surface sounds like someone’s rant about an interior decorating session gone wrong, actually concerns … well geez, I don’t know.  The lyrics seem rather vague, so you know the best thing to do is bet on a relationship song.  Either way, it’s an excellent opener to the record.  The much more rousing number in “Your Thoughts and Mine” sounds like the credits to the end of a movie featuring the aforementioned gunslinger after he left a woman in some desolate town.  It has a sorrowful trumpet as well as a reverb guitar keeping a galloping horse’s pace in the near background.

The band does take a step away from the dusty west by doing a fine cover of the Nightcrawler’s “Little Black Egg” from the sixties.  I first heard that song off of the Nuggets collection from Rhino records and found it charming, yet here it was getting covered by a band that must have thought the same thing.  As much as I enjoy this record, the band does get a bit distracted with some desperate sounding sparse music in “Christine”, which is a tune that sounds as unsettling crazy as the unfortunate psychological end of a girl and her doll.  Aside from this road block to easy flow, the record in total is dreamy trip across the plains with Frazer as its haunting guide.

Not much can be found about Tarnation on the web in terms of listening, so head on over to Paula Frazer’s MySpace page or the band’s Last.fm page.

I’m finding that I’m easily swept up in bands that portray a western feeling, like I was with Spindrift.  Despite all the garage rock and punk that I listen to, once in awhile something different comes along and gives me a nice surprise.  Tarnation may not be for everyone, but if you’re up for something low key and enjoy pretty voices as well, check out this band.  I noticed that Tarnation as a group is back recording with all new members around Frazer, so keep an eye out for a possible new record if you like this one as much as I did.

Spindrift – The West

November 4, 2009 2 comments

Beat the World Records, 2008Spindrift-large

I can personally vouch that Spindrift is a fantastic live band to go see.  I saw them when they opened for the Black Angels and, in combination with the other opener A Place to Bury Strangers, promptly blew the Angels out of the water.  It had something to do with their look (6 or so drifters crowded on a darkened stage) as well as the heavy reverb bouncing around the room during their enveloping western soundtrack.  Seeing Spindrift during their “The Legend of God’s Gun” tour and subsequently buying the album, I can tell you that their live show is better than their recorded output.  Therefore, I knew by picking this record up that, no matter how it sounded, it probably would be much more enticing to see it performed in person.  Still, I had to know.

Spindrift continue their take on dramatic western music with thick guitar, falsetto, and instrumentals.  They really do have a niche talent in adding horns, keyboards, peppy drums and sound effects to construct their visions of gunslingers, caravans, and tumbleweeds.  It’s almost as if they had thought about becoming a surf band but everyone was afraid of water, so they stuck to land.  Some of the tracks have lyrics that are sung but they are almost unwelcome since they are usually unremarkable and blurred by echoed effects anyway.  They do, however, add to the tone that the musicians are wrapping together with their many angles.  The true interest of the songs lie in the pictures painted by tracks such as “Ace Coletrane” and “Frozen Memories”, in which the latter portrays more of a haunting carnival element.  Later, “The Klezmer Song” has a little fun with a different kind of cowboy, I suppose.

There are tracks on this record that aren’t so interesting or successful, so unlike a surf record that can be counted on from song to song to deliver consistent enjoyable output, Spindrift prefers to mix it up.  I do think that this record, which was only released last year, is a bargain to be found if only for its uniqueness.  I almost think that it was a bit of a crime I found it bottomed out so carelessly, but I suppose that’s just more gold for me.  I would recommend this record to anyone who is up for something different, but only if they are willing to listen to it from beginning to end in a sitting.  This release certainly isn’t one meant for singles but instead for an experience.  And hey, if these guys are playing somewhere near you go check them out!

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