On this, their second full length release, Tarentel have done the expected and expanded their sound to include new elements and new experiments in sound. Tarentel, however, play unexpected music, never relying on the constraints of being a “guitar player” or “drummer”. On their previous releases, Bones of Satellite and Looking for Things, Searching for Things most notably, the driving forces behind the music were the guitar, bass, and drums. On this release they exhibit a more experimental side in the choices of instrumentation, at times only using found sounds, and end up with a more ambitious and far less satisfying record.
The opening track, “Adonai”, is luscious, replete with a simple guitar melody, trumpets, and other instruments. A sample of water flowing is present in the background of the song for most of the track, as are other found sounds that are manipulated to Tarentel’s pleasing. The song is a beautiful piece that ends up going nowhere past its original melody, the hallmark of most post-rock.
The second song is the highlight of the album. “Popol Vuh” opens with flowing strings, then a plucked acoustic guitar eventually comes in to accompany it, only to be overtaken halfway through by the bassline that drives the rest of the song. The drums offer a stable beat to accompany the bass as it goes through its jazz inflected line, while the acoustic guitar plays along. It’s a song that would not feel out of place on their previous full length.
After these two relatively innocuous opening salvos, Tarentel begin their experiment with sound in earnest. A short interlude from “Popol Vuh” connects the song to the Ricki Lee Jones cover, “Ghostyhead”. Wendy Allen offers vocals, but most of the work on this track is done by Scott Solter, the producer. As the track progresses, Allen’s soulful voice is mangled and distorted by shards of her voice being echoed and repeated. Her breath is recorded and used as a percussive element as well. It’s a beautiful and interesting song that doesn’t disappoint.
It is perhaps the best, most accessible example of experimentation on the record, however, as the second half of the album fails to live up to the first half. “Death in the Mind of the Living”, “Pneuma”, and “Cursed/Blessed” all suffer from an excessiveness that is carefully balanced on the first half of the disc. In experimental music, the line between a patience that bears out great things and a boredom that can only be relieved by a bullet to the head is a fine one.
You can sense that Tarentel are full of ideas. The album title is in reference to Foucault’s history of the social sciences and the music alternately brings to mind Steve Reich and Zoviet France. The problem with experimental music, however, is that everyone is so full of ideas and processes that they seem to forget there is a listener on the other end. For a listener, the fleshing out of an aesthetic or an experiment in sound is only interesting when it can be seen firsthand or when it is fully formed and ready for public consumption. Music, as a business, precludes the popularizing of such art forms in a mainstream way. The key for a band like Tarentel, if they truly want to quit their day jobs and pursue a career in music, is to find a niche between their experiments and their more accessible moments that can be sold more easily. If Tarentel chooses, on the other hand, to maintain their status as artists and pursue their aesthetic as a band that is melding together different modern music elements into their own personal statement, then they will probably not be seeing the lights of TRL anytime soon.
They probably wouldn’t have it any other way—and neither would I. That being said, do yourself a favor and pick up Bones of Satellite. It’s terrific.