Music Reviews
Black Tambourine (Reissue)

Black Tambourine Black Tambourine (Reissue)

(Slumberland) Rating - 9/10

The story of Black Tambourine’s short run, as basic as it seems, doesn’t amount for the grandness in spirit they brought to independent music in the long run. It was a little over 20 years ago that the Washington, D.C. band made a few singles, toured a limited amount of time, and pretty much left what they originally planted to move on to further endeavors that proved to be more lengthy. Yet, there’s something tricky about how time works; it just creates its own legacy, unexpectedly taking a life of its own without notice.

Black Tambourine’s story should be celebrated for one main reason: because it unintentionally became influential. It certainly wasn’t forced upon anyone. Soon enough, copies of 1999’s Complete Recordings would quietly creep in music fanatics’ record collections, one basement after another. That is the true definition of music as a means of exploration and discovery. It’s quite an accomplishment for a band that never lived to make a full-length album.

So why is it even suitable to re-release material that was already compiled eleven years ago? It’s fairly simple - in an age that celebrates itself with vinyl releases, bedroom recordings, and do-it-yourself aesthetics, the adequate moment for such release should’ve been now. In fact, there hasn’t ever been an album cover as emblematic as Black Tambourine’s re imagining: a button pin fittingly placed in the back of a jean pocket, surely representative of youth culture’s obsession with showing off their indie cult swag. If I bumped into a kid who’s blabbering and namedropping with a Black Tambourine pin at a show, I’d certainly be a little sceptical about the person’s knowledge of the band. Still, this is the kind of attitude that gives indie such a lethal reputation, yet generates waves and fills shows.

Black Tambourine’s music isn’t meant to be revolutionary, or dare I say, seminal. Though it is representative of a mesh of influences (Spector’s wall-of-sound, Jesus and Mary Chain’s zonked-out drone), the compositions are fairly simple pop snippets of what it is to be young, impulsive, and distressed. Instead of punk as fuck, it was twee as fuck, in a time when such an idiotic term wasn’t even as corrosive as it is now. And ever since real adjectives were substituted by a play of words made by critical musings so they could dress themselves as scholarly, there’s an absentmindedness in intrinsically enjoying the music on its own merits.

In fact, Black Tambourine’s wordings aren’t “sickly sentimental”. It’s about life, man. You’d be surprised how twee we can act when the moment isn’t right. As the bass flutters in By Tomorrow, lead singer Pam Berry sings Do what makes you happy/ but I won’t stay here as long as you make me sad. It’s succinctly direct and sincere. When the wash of guitars hit mid section, there’s a strenuous feeling of being suckered in the gut by the one you love. Other ruminations are quite comical like Throw Aggi off the Bridge, a moment of despair that deals with unrequited love, reading like a love stricken journal that’s prohibited to the little brother next door to avoid humiliation. It was these bipolar moments of sentiment that brought character to these truer than fiction accounts.

More than anything, Black Tambourine recounts a time where dream pop was very celebrated in the UK, later to be crossed with a western audience who started to catch an inkling for it’s experimental nature. Ironically, such dreamy shreds turned out to be a wake-up call for musicians in dire need of jerking noise with elegancy. In Black Tambourine’s case, it sounds like a moment of transition between the band members, each about to embark with different projects. It was a freewheeling moment of inspiration where each of the members would have the authority to exchange instruments, jam out some sweet tunes, and commemorate themselves with the music they felt passionate for.

Whereas Complete Recordings had their collective discography assembled, this new reissue has a special surprise: four new recordings, two of them originals from their unreleased catalogue called Lazy Heart and Tears of Joy, both of which never came to fruition. Both tracks sound just as scrappy as they used to: there’s that same fuzzy element to the guitars, a punk centric spirit in the way the instrumentation connects, and the same sensibilities of early fifties rock n’ roll. The ten original cuts remain untouched from 1999’s first reissue, which becomes a treasure for record buyers because it shows a summation of three alterations: the original recordings, two demos that are exposed in all their garage sounding glory, and the final four recordings that give evidence to how little tinkering was involved to replicate that early sound.

While Black Tambourine’s music isn’t groundbreaking, it’ll be remembered for clustering a sound that has been replicated ad infinitum. The narratives it employs are true to life, the reverb drenched instrumentation was rightfully summoned, and the substitution of dark undertones over lighter sensibilities that such genre was commonly known for were ditched with good reason. No wonder Slumberland has wholeheartedly embraced Black Tambourine’s influence to their label. That’s good enough reason to bring another of independent music’s long forgotten cult stories into the forefront.