[22 February 2012]
The cover art of Bloomington, Indiana five-piece Tammar’s debut LP, Visits, depicts a curiosity: a purple, rocky walkway leading to a purple, ridged cave, covered in patches of purple, scattered moss. Within this monochrome cave, there’s a slight opening, through which an ocean of sorts is visible off in the distance, glimmering underneath a gorgeous, cloudless, bright blue sky. It’s a welcoming sight, one that allures you with its trippy majesty, as if it’s inviting you to take the walk, however long it may be, and see what you can find along the way.
Not coincidentally, the dreamy “wobble-pop” (as Tammar themselves term it) contained within Visits would be the perfect soundtrack for taking such a journey. Like the purple cave depicted on their album’s cover, Tammar makes music that is psychedelic and pretty, artful in its humming drones, glorious indie riffage, and overall unpredictability. Like the defined walkway leading up to the cave, though, there is always a certain sense of structure that guides the whole of Visits’ 44-minute runtime. Tammar is most definitely a band which knows when to surge to wailing, chest-thumping crescendos as well as when to let the resulting madness die back down to a grooving warble. And like the empyrean ocean which can be glimpsed from the entrance of the cave, the seven tracks which form Visits are often huge, sprawling pieces which, in the hands of lesser bands, would result in a typhoon-esque mess of an album.
With only one of these tracks lasting less than five minutes, Tammar is keenly aware that their Sonic Youth-ian guitar hooks and shoegaze-y droning, though plentiful, can only get them so far. At its core, Visits is an album all about the art of creating a sonic atmosphere, creating music you can feel pumping through your cerebrum, music in which to get lost for a while. This is evident right from the initial organ buzz of opener “Heavy Tonight”, which becomes a steady whirl for the track’s layers of swift guitars, crashing percussion, and, perhaps most arrestingly, frontman Dave Walter’s echoing, arena-sized yelp to jam, and gradually shift, around. Like most of Visits, the song never gets too huge for too long, and leaves not only a barrage of hooks, but also the overall experience of hearing the track lingering in your head well after it concludes.
While a word like “jam” could raise red flags for some, Visits’ sonic twists and turns always tend to have an organic feel to them. Although it’s never obvious, every rise in tempo, alteration in guitar riff, or change in Walter’s inflection seems to always come at just the right moment. It’s in the way “Summer Fun”, the only track less than five minutes, and subsequently the most radio-friendly cut on the album, suddenly busts out a chorus of handclaps in the midst of its infectious, Smiths-like lead guitars—if you haven’t noticed by now, guitarist Evan Whikeheart is impressive on this album—and more of Walter’s affecting mumbles. It’s in the way, on album highlight “Deep Witness”, Walter’s punkish, Joe Strummer-style sneer grows increasingly defiant as each whirling surge of melody loops around and around back to the listener’s ears. It’s in the way the subdued percussion and dreamy arpeggios of closer “Frost Meter” allow the vocals to take center stage, for once, only to consume the clarity in a rush of manic, grooving post-punk, before fading out one last time. And so on.
Ultimately, Visits is effective at being affecting, its atmosphere hazy and trippy, its hooks memorable and captivating. Though Tammar is somewhat guilty of riding the same “gradually build to frenzied highs, then fade out to mellowed, hooky lows” trick on most of the album, this does not stop these tracks from just being really damn good. Tammar’s almost improvisational nature allows for them to take what would be fairly standard Joy Division apes and breathe into them a sort of signature sound, highlighted especially by Walter’s haunting moan, carefully adding a certain zest to the layer upon layer of their epic, pounding glory. “We can’t slow down,” Walter howls on “Deep Witness”, and in that line is all you need to hear before you’re welcomed to this journey, before you’re welcomed to these purple caves.