Sound — 8
Formed in late 2013, Black Tar Heroines is the psychedelic rock project of multi-instrumentalist Cobi Walker. Though he has released music through Soundclound and Bandcamp since 2011 (most notably the eponymous "Cobi" EP), his new EP, "Purely Hypothetical," is a substantially more serious stab at establishing himself as a force in the independent music scene.
Standing at 5 tracks with a run-time of roughly 26 minutes, the EP manages to pack a great deal of variety into a relatively short amount of time, running the gamut from garage rock to shoegaze. The first track, "Purely Hypothetical," is an upbeat psychedelic pop rock tune in the vein of bands like Tame Impala. As the intro and the title track, it sets the tone for the rest of the EP, and it serves as a sort of musical mission statement for the project. The next track, "Mexican Coke," starts off with a sleazy southern bar rock groove that wastes no time going into a large, anthemic chorus celebrating the virtues of attractive women. By far the catchiest song on the EP, and definitely the song with the most interesting vocal performance. Following that is "Hopelessly Hopeful," a stripped-down surf punk tune that takes inspiration from the likes of Wavves. In stark contrast is the fourth track, "Place Memory," a lush, downbeat, wistful tune with strong vocal harmonies and a lot of layered instrumental work. The production really shines on this song and its follow-up, "Labyrinth," the shoegazing closer that brings sparkling synths, piano and ambient passages into the mix before building to the most climactic, hard-driving drums and riffing of the whole EP.
The whole EP was written, performed, programmed, mixed and mastered by Cobi Walker at his home studio "The Flight Deck," and it doesn't sound any worse for it. The mixes sit well, and there are no glaring errors to speak of. The performances are all fantastic, especially the bass, which really shines on "Labyrinth." The only thing that holds the EP back is the programmed drumming. Though the programmed drums are utilized well, the feeling and groove that a live drummer can bring would push the songs to their fullest potential.
Lyrics — 9
The greatest part of the EP as a whole is Cobi Walker's impressive vocal performances. Walking away from it, one gets the feeling that he could make his voice fit just about any song. It almost gives a sense of whiplash - in "Mexican Coke" he's up against the mic giving breathy declarations of sexual innuendo and screaming about a "pretty little thing", then two tracks later he's lamenting love lost, and finally he's soaked in reverb and making distant, abstract declarations about life and the nature of the world. The lyrics, by and large, deal with love and sex and everything in between. "Purely Hypothetical" is about presenting a girl with a hypothetical "you-and-me" situation, "Mexican Coke" is an open declaration of god-I-want-to-have-sex-with-you energy, "Hopelessly Hopeful" is about hoping for a relationship to return to what it once was, and "Place Memory" is about love lost. The only song that breaks this mold is "Labyrinth," which features far more abstract, introspective lyrics to match the music: "Repeat/ Let it roll/ The world is won by those who let it go/ Repeat/ Let it in/ Fighting a war you cannot win/ Labyrinth/ Am I alive? / Labyrinth/ Will I survive?"
Overall Impression — 8
Overall, "Purely Hypothetical" is an EP that wears its influences on its sleeve and stares towards a bright future for its creator. From the psychedelic hopefulness of the title track to the distant vocal harmonies of "Place Memory," the EP is an open celebration of the music that the composer holds dear; bands ranging from Alice In Chains to True Widow to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and more. While not doing much to innovate, it doesn't have to. Black Tar Heroines has established its sound and now has a strong foundation to work from. If Cobi can keep making songs as catchy as "Mexican Coke" or as beautiful as "Labyrinth," here's hoping he can reach great heights.