It’s nearly impossible to imagine modern indie-pop without the fuzzed out, reverb soaked, dreamily shoegazing influence of Black Tambourine. And nigh on 20 years after the band broke up, their complete recordings (and four new ones, recorded Summer 2009) sound just as immediate and shakily seminal as they did in that all-too-brief span between 1989 and 1991.
Black Tambourine formed as a side project of members of Whorl and Velocity Girl, with the sleepy-sounding, doe-eyed Pam Berry on vocals, peeking alluringly from behind a wall of impossibly thick distortion and echo-chamber reverb. And in their short lifespan, they made an indelible mark on indie-pop, coating infectious pop sensibilities with DIY disdain for conventions.
At the time, Black Tambourine may have been compared to The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Replacements and Dinosaur Jr. But fast-forwarding to 2010, it’s easy to draw comparisons with Darker My Love, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, The Velvet Teen and Dum Dum Girls.
To say Black Tambourine’s music has aged well is to concede that maybe the ’90s didn’t do as much for indie music as we thought. Before there was grunge or pop-punk (in its lamest incarnation), Berry and company played with reckless abandon and reverb-soaked lethargy.
And hearing this new deluxe edition of their complete works, remastered beautifully (and offered on 12″ vinyl for the first time), is not unlike hearing the band – nay; indie-pop in general – for the first time. When confronting this collection (brief as its 16 tracks may be) it’s best to drop everything, crack open a beer and disappear between the speakers for a while.
For Ex-Lovers Only slinks and lumbers on fuzzed-out guitars and sludgy bass. And when Barry’s ethereally lovely voice first cuts through the chaos, it’s not unlike a revelation.� Black Car smacks of Yo La Tengo, and calls up immediate memories of sweater weather at university (if you went to the sort of university that favoured sweaters and noisy indie-pop).
Throw Aggi Off The Bridge and We Can’t Be Friends both bound pluckily with melodies that stick in the ear and plant seeds of swooning contentedness. It’s easy to imagine these providing the foundation that bands like The Cardigans and The Cranberries were built upon.
The collection also includes a couple of demo recordings (For Ex-Lovers Only and Throw Aggi Off The Bridge), which don’t really sound too unlike their finished versions. More interesting, though, are the four new recordings that close out the disc, all of which the band played in their heyday but never got around to recording. When you consider that the four original band members were ready to be assembled for this project, it seems like a damn shame they haven’t been keeping it together for the last 20 years.
The new recordings present a Black Tambourine that is neither tired nor irrelevant. They sound just a bit better produced than their predecessors, but the spirit of disaffected bubblegum pop is well intact. Heartbeat covers Buddy Holly with thumping and lilting, presenting a Berry who sounds as if she’s not aged a day.
The new originals, Lazy Heart and Tears Of Joy fit in well with the rest of the catalogue, the latter bouncing at infectious speed and sounding like a fever dream featuring Katrina And The Waves. And the Suicide cover Dream Baby Dream is nothing short of spectacular in its lolling, music-box drone.
Black Tambourine have finally gotten the treatment they deserve. This is essential listening for anyone who wonders where indie-rock’s been, or where it’s going. The influence is obvious, and the music has never sounded better.