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Music

Tagging Satellites: Abstract Confessions

Ben Varkentine

Tagging Satellites

Abstract Confessions

Label: Mag Wheel
US Release Date: 2001-01-25
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Tagging Satellites is made up of Graig Markel, Zera Marvel and Jeff Hazel. Apart from the fact that Marvel is the vocalist, they don't appear to want to let me know who does what on the album. There are no credits on the promo disc, none on the hype sheet, and I have so far been unable to discover any on the good old web.

I can tell you that their primary sound is droning, echoey guitars that sometimes sound as if they're being scraped across the ocean floor by Goths. Marvel's vocals are deadpan affairs that are not always as melodic as I would prefer but not without appeal, particularly on the brief "Less Fragile". The lyrics, whoever writes them, are cryptic, like the poems that black-clad, pale girl whose hair color was not her own used to read in your creative writing class: "I laughed, I forgot / It reminds me of you."

They suggest a great deal beneath the surface, but keep you at arms length even as they entice. Upon reflection, this makes the title of the album make a good deal of sense. Which is kinda, but not totally cool. In fact, "kinda, but not totally cool" isn't a bad take on the whole work.

Forgive me for resorting to the old critical fallback of comparing one bands sound to another, but the best encapsulation of Tagging Satellites sound I can think of is: Imagine if Pet Shop Boys turned into a rock band and scored a David Lynch film.

I wish I had a time machine, like the Doctor's TARDIS, for a number of reasons -- not least of them is the wish to see Laurence Olivier's Macbeth. But right now I also wish I could jump down the line a few years to see what Tagging Satellites have produced. They have all the makings of a seminal band, on the verge of a nervous breakthrough. But something tempers my enthusiasm, keeps me from wanting to throw my full support (for whatever the support of a music journalist is worth) behind them. They also sound suspiciously like the kind of band whose chops do not quite meet their aspirations yet, the kind who, two or three albums from now, will conquer the nation and maybe even cross the sea by the album after that. At which point, their cult audience, who love underdogs, will desert them for selling out.

Abstract Confessions sounds a bit like music for staring out the window on a rainy night, remembering warmer, brighter places (California dreaming on such a winter's day, you might say). As such, there are times when this album is a perfectly fitting soundtrack. But I must confess, abstractly or no, that while tagging satellites it doesn't hit quite enough heights for me. The raw material is there, but the band does not seem to me to be as skilled at pulling it into shape as I would like.

I kind of enjoy it while I'm listening to it, but after four days of listening to it at least once a day and often more, it doesn't stay with me when I'm out and about.

So...Here we are back in the box of flawed albums with great promise. It's my hope that in a few years I, and the members of Tagging Satellites, will look back on this album the way one should look back on one's early work: With shock and horror.

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