It’s not all that hard to make a punk rock album that’s loud, fast and pissed off. Hundreds, even thousands of bands by now have managed to commit a dozen three-chord rave-ups to tape, so even if one wasn’t sure where to start, the blueprints are numerous and plentiful. Yet making a punk rock album that’s interesting, novel or unique can prove to be a far more difficult task. Interestingly enough, that hasn’t stopped a lot of bands from trying in recent years, primarily on the West Coast. From Abe Vigoda, to HEALTH, to No Age, to These Are Powers, a staggering number of bands have charted their own path toward the undiscovered realms of punk rock in an effort to plant their flags in new sonic territory.
Seattle’s Talbot Tagora is one of the newest, and definitely weirdest, bands to stamp their unique impression on punk rock, mixing agitated rhythms and jittery tempos with abrasive, yet oddly accessible melodies. Granted, the word “accessible” here should come accompanied with an asterisk and fine print, as even when the youthful trio sounds their catchiest, they’re still playing music with few obvious hooks or shout-along choruses. Their melodies will find their way into your head, somehow, but through their own subversive, subliminal means.
Throughout the 14 tracks on Lessons In the Woods Or a City, Talbot Tagora’s first full-length, the group lays down a dense and woozy strata of trippy instrumentation and downright eerie vocals, making for music that’s consistently exciting but frequently disorienting. Leadoff track “Mixed Signals Through Miles of Pilgrimage” is such an example, reasonably simple in its melody, yet the track’s distorted vocals slice through its straightforward sound to concoct an unsettling but awesome din. The band wraps “Ichthus Hop” in complicated, unpredictable riff formations that result in an endlessly thrilling pathway to demented ecstasy. Think early Sonic Youth, but with a greater interest in making people dance to their twisted siren song. “Bounty Hunter,” meanwhile, rides a sole chord during its stomping verse, only to explode into a high-speed freakout shortly thereafter. One track later, the squealing post-punk glory of “Solar Puppets” provides a transcendent moment on the album, in which Johnny Marr-like guitar licks come in contact with haunting, ambient synthesizer waves for a combination that probably shouldn’t work, but does, and quite stunningly at that.
The guitar work on “Hunger Strike” at times recalls Nirvana, though in context the song isn’t anywhere near grunge. “Black Ice” skips and gallops like Abe Vigoda, and “Mouth Rainboy” manages to turn one of the album’s most `normal’ sounding melodies into one of its weirdest. Talbot Tagora does `weird’ really well, as a matter of fact, and the more out there some of these songs get, the more enjoyable and exciting the listening experience becomes. Thankfully, on Lessons In The Woods Or A City, Talbot Tagora manage to stay as far `out there’ as possible for most of the album. It may not have been easy, but Talbot Tagora have managed to release that rare punk album that’s interesting, novel and unique.
MP3: “Ichthus Hop”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.