Folk-gothic, ghost-ridden debut channels Marianne Faithfull meeting Nick Drake and punching him in the head. Now mandatory for cross-country drives.
Some CDs just beckon the open road. They sound world-weary, lonely, heartbroken, and truthful to the point of making others uncomfortable. Somehow, they do all that and still manage to evoke excitement. There's comfort in acknowledging the misery of human existence. Stripped down to nothing, anything can become an adventure.
Tara Angell's debut, Come Down, sounds like a switch cut through a country. Take forests and deserts, cities and rural towns, muggy heat and bitter cold, and she has a song for you. Dawn? Midnight? She's there, waiting with a guitar. With her Marianne Faithfull-esque voice, her crack musicians, and a theme of strength amongst ruin, Tara Angell is out to compete for your attention. She deserves it.
It all starts with the line "Slowly numbing myself". Angell goes on to sing the chorus of "Untrue" like a mantra: "I am untrue". Three small words, but the power and expressiveness behind her voice are undeniable. The song retains a creepy feeling of ghosts in the attic and under the floorboards. That opening song sets the stage for eleven more songs of bleak truth about shattered promises. As informed by the opening track, there is no finger pointing, which is refreshing. Or, if there is, it is just as likely to be pointed back at the narrator. When singing the simple, oft-repeated pop music line of "I am never going to love you again" ("When You Find Me"), Angell conjures Scrawl's Marcy Mays (the indie-rock queen of self-doubt). The line becomes not a statement, but rather an incantation, a plea to make these words come true.
Warmly produced by Joseph Arthur, the music matches the mood of the lyrics. It's wonderful to hear such lucid guitar playing on "The World Will Match Your Pain". One imagines a late night party, winding down, left with people who are not your friends. Suddenly, someone pulls out their six-string and lulls you into remembering beauty. The following track, "Bitch Please", emphasizes the guitar in a different manner. It starts as a simple, hippie-ish jam. Talking and laughing are featured in the background. The listener senses things kicking in but they never really do. There's just an unexpected squall of noise about two-thirds of the way through the song (turn it up loud enough and it'll scare you). This may sound like a complaint but actually, "Bitch Please" sounds like nothing less than a great Replacements tune (including that title). Elsewhere, the musicians -- Joseph Arthur (bass, keyboards, guitar), Brian Geltner (drums, percussion), Kenny Siegel (guitar) -- add such texture and atmosphere with so few instruments (relatively speaking) as to render other bands as amateurish.
If "Come Down" has a fault, it is in repetition. A couple songs sound like they need a direction to travel in, and since Angell's style is distinctive, this sort of plodding is only underscored. Lyrically, the same complaint arises. There are some lines where one feels Angell could have come up with a few more words instead of relying on a repeated phrase. However, this remains an extremely promising debut. More than that, it is a debut that invites you to spend some long hours with it, preferably alone (as opposed to those "promising debuts" that mean "just wait for the next one"). That's why the road seems like the best place to hear "Come Down". Traveling by yourself, aware of the passage of miles and time, Tara Angell will let you know how fragile everything outside of your windshield actually is, and then she will show you the hidden strength in acknowledging that very fact.