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The Washington, D.C..-area quartet Black Tambourine has already proved everything it needed to prove, and it did so by releasing just a handful of tracks back in the early ’90s, mainly on two seven-inch singles. The group—Slumberland Records co-founder Mike Schulman, Velocity Girl members Archie Moore and Brian Nelson, and Chickfactor indie-pop zine co-founder Pam Berry—had a keenly defined aesthetic in line with The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy, marrying ’60s-influenced pop with intense, overwhelming sheets of noisy, distortion-drenched guitar chords, booming drumbeats and cymbal crashes on a stripped-down kit, and upper-register bass notes played compellingly, going beyond just mirroring chords changes. Although small, the band’s catalog is nearly perfect, first compiled on the 10-song, 1999 release Complete Recordings. After reuniting in 2009, the members released the outstanding collection Black Tambourine, appending two demo tracks and four new songs, including spirited covers of Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat” and Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream.” With nothing left to prove, Black Tambourine presents what might seem like a trifle: a four-song EP, available as two seven-inch singles or a digital download, consisting entirely of Ramones covers, entitled OneTwoThreeFour.
“I Want You Around” uses the classic, overdriven Black Tambourine sound with channeled chaos within a pop structure, and halfway through, some ’60s pop influences—The Byrds and Love come to mind—feature in a guitar interlude. On “What’s Your Game,” Berry’s sweet vocals are enhanced by backing singers “The ’Rinettes,” consisting of Rose Melberg (of Tiger Trap and the Softies), underrated four-track home taper Linda Smith, Dee Dee (of Dum Dum Girls), and Honeymoon Diary’s Jenny Robbins. “I Remember You” is a stomper, with an alternating regular/irregular drumming urgency, and “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” is the EP’s most reserved track, with an underlying tension, featuring a complicated tenderness and chimpy, gliding electronic notes from a Stylophone. On OneTwoThreeFour, the band throws itself at the project with complete enthusiasm, and the result is pure, unadulterated, noisy joy.
Words And Music
More than 20 years ago, the British dance-pop band Saint Etienne sang songs like “Nothing Can Stop Us” with a youthful invulnerability on its debut album, Foxbase Alpha, before growing up and contemplating domesticity on the 2005 album, Tales from Turnpike House, mentioning “old 45s gathering dust” in “Teenage Winter.” Seven years after its predecessor, the new proper full-length album Words And Music finds the band even more nostalgic, expounding on its lifetime love affair with music. On the opening track “Over the Border,” with a combination of spoken and sung words, lead vocalist Sarah Cracknell discusses mixtape love tokens, music magazines, record labels and meaningful bonding; growing older, she ponders, “When I was married, when I had kids, would Marc Bolan still be so important?”
Pleasure can take the form of either real-time experiences or memories, and although there’s a fair amount of synthy, dance-oriented tracks here, wistful reflection rather than action is inspired in its nostalgia, not bending toward trends (with the exception of a few Autotune vocals effects); rather, it stays true to the dance-pop style the group helped to shape, even evoking previous songs like “Sylvie” on “Heading for the Fair,” with its driving piano syncopation and spirit. While the tracks seem sturdy and melodic enough, a spark of excitement doesn’t present itself as much as it should, and the album feels like an epilogue rather than a climax. “Haunted Jukebox,” one of the better numbers, closes the album with a pert delivery that belies its melancholy, even tormented ruminations, inspired again by “fine 45s you found.” It’s a Saint Etienne that seems content to stay at home and listen to records instead of hitting the clubs with youthful abandon, and with this new album, a search for meaning overshadows the search for enjoyment. With Words And Music, changes are brought to the surface—not particularly with Saint Etienne, but within the listener.