[17 February 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
When Scott Tuma was in Souled American, we called it “alt-country”, which is far too simple a tag for the oddball, subterranean beauty that was that band’s sound. Similarly, you could call Tuma’s solo work “acoustic” or “avant-garde”, but it won’t explain what he’s doing, and it won’t tell you how devastatingly beautiful his music is on Dandelion. On this complex record, field recordings and whirring tapes alternately clatter with and grind against banjos, pianos, and strangely tuned guitars, and the pacing of this alien mix takes a number of listens to pin down. Early tracks like the buzzing organ vamp of “San Luis Freeze” or the troubled shuffling of “Old Woman” flash by in a minute, while longer movements like “Red Roses for Me” seem to stretch forever. Here a piano faintly clangs and a banjo plinks and plunks its way drunkenly along, while field recordings whisper over the fray. It yields to a swaying accordion that both comes out of nowhere and somehow makes the sweet, stumbling movement whole.
Dandelion creaks and hisses with an organic and staggering depth. It sounds like something come to life—these pieces sound like they’re breathing. From the long, droning wail of “Free Dirt” to the gentler echo of closer “The Roses are Red”, the album first perplexes you and then wins you over not by explaining itself, but by surrounding you with its haunting layers, willing you to dig through them. The CD version includes the three-movement piece “Smallpipes” as bonus content and—following an “Intermission” of shortwave recordings—it acts as a sunburst after Dandelion‘s cloudbanks. With this record—along with recent greats like 2008’s Not for Nobody and Taradiddle, his album with Mike Weis—Tuma proves he’s not just one of the most unpredictable musicians working today, but also one of the best.