After years of rock guitarists decimating our eardrums with their deafening barrage of distortion, Tangiers have stumbled upon a revelation. Rather than crank up the overdrive, you can get an equally dense and edgy effect by upping the reverb. And on Family Myth, the Toronto band’s third effort, there is plenty of reverb. Not necessarily My Morning Jacket levels of reverb, or even Ventures levels of reverb, but a good amount nonetheless—enough to keep you from noticing that there isn’t much distortion, and that was my whole point to begin with. Doing away with “crunchy,” but beefing up “jangly,” you might be able to call them “clang-ly.” Hmmm…I need to work on a better word for this sound.
Well, there is a name for what Tangiers does, and it’s “pop.” Sigh…heard that one before? Certainly. But Tangiers’ pop is a little bit unsettling, even a bit baroque. The plinky piano melodies, the echoing vocals, and, of course, the reverb—it’s like the New Pornographers gone slightly goth, which is an interesting idea, and one that Tangiers pulls off well, whether intentionally or not. And, you know, there’s a skull on the front cover, so that may or may not perpetuate this conception of the band as power-pop-gone-creepy, but there’s something different, something altogether haunting about them.
On the surface, Family Myth is as much a summertime pop jaunt as Twin Cinema or Chutes Too Narrow, though I think I actually find that album to be more of an Autumnal, “rainy day” pop record, in contrast to some opinions. Tangiers, melodically, keep up this tradition of well-written and elaborate pop music, with just the right level of eccentricity to keep it safe from mainstream consumption. But there’s no denying the hooks: the hard-driving rave-up of “Crack Valley,” the bounciness of “That Russian Bastard,” the wonderful vocal harmonies of “Dragging The Harbour.” Tangiers have the catchy tune down pat.
However, Tangiers won’t let a catchy tune merely be a catchy tune. Where a good guitar riff would do just fine, the duo has to throw in something just slightly off, like the whirring organ in “Coast Guard,” or the spectral melody of the, appropriately titled, “I Suggest A Crypt.” I, personally, can’t help but get chills when I hear the line “there’s something wrong with him,” from “That Russian Bastard.” Pop music it may be, but not any kind I play alongside my favorite summer jamz. In fact, I’m not even sure I could play this album during daylight hours. Well, I probably could, but it just might not have the same effect.
Tangiers grows on you. That shouldn’t be taken as a backhanded compliment, as they’re enjoyable from the first listen. They do, however, take repeated listens to reveal their subtle, often eerie, and always unique charms. Most of what we call pop music is meant to be obvious, but Tangiers deserves some credit for challenging those conventions.
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.