Released: Jul 29, 2014
Genre: Indie Rock, Garage Rock, Post-Punk, Shoegaze, Neo-Psychedelia
Number Of Tracks: 8
Hot on the heels of the "Purely Hypothetical" EP, Black Tar Heroines have wasted no time in putting out "Summertide," a full album of songs that manage to both distill their sound and find variation within it.
TheHydra, on september 05, 2014 1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Sound: Hot on the heels of the "Purely Hypothetical" EP, Black Tar Heroines have wasted no time in putting out "Summertide," a full album of songs that manage to both distill their sound and find variation within it.
Before listening to the album, the most immediately noticeable aspect is the runtime. At 29 minutes, it's only a few minutes longer than "Purely Hypothetical," yet with 3 more tracks. This is an indication of the overt punk influence on the album, shaving back the track lengths and the production touches for a rawer, grittier sound. Nowhere is this more abundant than on "God Only Knows," the album's opening track. A quick drumstick count-in gives way to a fast riff and wailing, air-raid siren background vocals that drag you in whether you want to go or not, right before dropping you off at the verse to meet Heroines everything-man Cobi Walker, who is very unhappy with you. He wants to know why he let himself get with you when you turned out to be, among other things, a fair-weather lover and a late-night heartbreak lingering in his mind. Before you get a chance to finish asking him what he means, the chorus explodes with fury: "LA LA LA LA, HEY-EY-EY-EY! YOU SAID YOU WANTED SOME ACTION, I THINK YOU WANT A REACTION!" He doesn't want to hear it. You know what you did. The sing-alongs are gone. The scream-alongs are here. As with "Purely Hypothetical"'s title track, "God Only Knows" is a mission statement for the album. Gone is the idealistic Cobi who sang about hopefulness and cutesy propositions; here is the cynical Cobi that went through it all and decided it wasn't worth the pain involved. While the two songs are certainly similar - they are written by the same guy, after all - there still stands a stark contrast between them, a contrast that runs throughout the album. Everything is angrier, groovier, faster, and most of all, louder.
After some more catharsis and a ripping guitar solo, we segue into "Boardwalkin'," a decidedly psychedelic track with a groovy, swaying verse that leads into another yell-as-loud-as-you-can chorus. The use of dynamics throughout the album is simply fantastic; verses are often stripped down to the essentials whereas choruses bring the whole damn band down on your head, and that is exemplified here. It's tension-and-release the whole way through, which fits with the sleazy vocal delivery and lyrical content. The track ends with a washed-out guitar solo, and we're onto "La Dolce Vita." This track is a laser-focused piece of garage rock songwriting, with a chorus-worthy pre-chorus that leads into a yet-bigger chorus. It's the poppiest the album gets, but the attitude still abounds. Up next is "Cruise Controller," one of the most interesting songs out of the 8. A hip-hop beat and a soaring chorus are the primary method of delivery for the best guitar tones on the album. The distorted guitars that stab in during the verses have a distinct analog synth rumble to them, and the screeching pre-chorus riff sounds like no guitar you've ever heard. It would be easy to write these off as synthesizers or VSTi presets, but make no mistake: no synthesizers were used at any point on the album, so Cobi has noted. This isn't even to mention the guitar solo, a bitcrushed-sounding affair that sounds like a radio being adjusted in hell. Following "Cruise Controller" is "21 Questions," a punk-influenced song similar to "God Only Knows" with a surf guitar riff overlaid atop it, some snarky lead guitar fills to accompany the vocals, and a fast guitar solo. Just because it's punk-influenced doesn't mean it isn't well-crafted, however, as the song is still as catchy as anything else on the album.
"Better Off in L.A." is a song that teeters dangerously close to being lighthearted, singing about California over a tambourine-backed instrumental before the chorus kicks in with a monster distorted bass tone and some lead guitar to wash away any notion of that being the case. The song constantly pulls back just to slam into you again, knocking the wind right out of you. Even the solo gets in on the action, as it's preceded by a small interlude in which the instruments get a chance to back off on the intensity a bit and let some ghostly backing vocals take center stage before the lead guitar hits you in the face, playing you out over one more reprisal of the chorus. Before you get a chance to catch your breath, "Run Like Hell" comes in with feedback and an opening guitar solo over a riff that can only be described as pure evil. This is the closest the album ever gets to heavy metal, and it certainly grabs your attention. At 2 minutes in length it's the shortest song on the album, but a lot of variation is packed into those 2 minutes. The verse riff is borderline danceable in a way that brings Fugazi to mind, the bridge gets quiet and creepy as Cobi states there's nowhere left to go, and the song ends with backing vocals compelling the listener to run before coming to an abrupt stop, leaving us to wonder if whatever he was running from caught up to him. The final track, "Witch in White," is very much in the vein of "Labyrinth" and "Place Memory" from the previous EP, a lush and psychedelic song layered with vocal harmonies, reverb, and organ that all create a mysterious soundscape to accompany the lyrics about inner turmoil and secrecy.
Like "Purely Hypothetical," "Summertide" was recorded entirely by Cobi at The Flight Deck, and his skills in that environment have clearly improved in the short timespan since his last release. Everything sounds crisp whether you're listening through speakers or headphones, and the guitar tones are amazing on songs like "Cruise Controller" and "Witch in White." Speaking of guitars, listeners who might have been unsatisfied with the guitar work on "Purely Hypothetical" will be pleased to know that every track on "Summertide" features a guitar solo, all of which are performed with a controlled sloppiness to match the raw emotion of many of the tracks. The bass finds a wide variety of uses throughout, from sliding grooviness to punk bounciness, and the programmed drums sound as close to the real thing as you can get without a real kit on-hand. Again, it must be emphasized that it is one person doing all this; even the model on the cover is none other than Cobi Walker himself, taking DIY as seriously as possible. // 9
Lyrics: Once again Cobi Walker's vocals take center stage on this record, as for all the advances in instrumental and production skill he makes, his voice remains his most valuable asset. His voice perfectly fits every song on the album whether it be angsty, sleazy, anxious or any other mood the album takes. However, the vocals are also used in more creative ways than on previous efforts; for example, on "Witch in White" the two main vocal tracks have two decidedly different timbres, one being deep and slightly gravelly and the other being higher-register and softer to drive home the sense of duality the song talks about. Lyrically, the album goes to much darker and angrier places than before. Songs like "God Only Knows," "21 Questions" and "Cruise Controller" are about spite towards a lost love, and "Run Like Hell" is about trying in vain to run from something that wants to destroy you. These all create an atmosphere that outright rejects some of the saccharine notions of the debut EP in a way that almost feels deliberate. The standout track, lyrically, is "Witch in White," an introspective song about a secret dual life, never mentioned by name, only described in terms of the fear and suffering its secrecy has brought about: "From my pain I've learned and for my faith I've leapt / Thrown down my veil, fought the demons I kept / And while you never prepare for what you couldn't expect / I just pray to God that you can learn to accept / And I pray like hell that you will love me no less / My heart's racing / Scared to death / My God told me / Life comes next." // 9
Overall Impression: In many ways, "Summertide" feels like more of a debut for the band than "Purely Hypothetical" did, and in many ways it is. Whereas "Purely Hypothetical" was a sampling of what Black Tar Heroines can do, "Summertide" is an illustration of Black Tar Heroines will do. This ties in to the remarkable consistency the LP has, in that despite the seemingly disparate influences and styles to be found in many spots, it all comes together in a way that feels cohesive. All the music sounds like it belongs together, and the same couldn't necessarily be said of previous works. There isn't a "whiplash" effect to be found here. "Summertide" is exactly what Black Tar Heroines needed it to be: a focused display of what their sound is and what they plan to go for in the future. // 9