The first proper “indie rock” record I ever owned was Sebadoh’s Bakesale. Before that I had mostly listened to so-called “alternative” and punk, becoming newly acquainted to underground rock. In time, I grew to appreciate Lou Barlow’s quieter, more sensitive compositions, but the tracks that immediately drew me in were three of Jason Loewenstein’s rocked-out tracks- “Drama Mine,” “Got It” and “Not Too Amused,” the last of the three in particular. Whilst reading over the album’s credits, I learned that these three tracks weren’t Sebadoh tracks, proper, but three two-person collaborations between Loewenstein and drummer Tara Jane O’Neil, then of math rockers Rodan.
It’s not that O’Neil’s drumming was insanely spectacular. Nor had I known much about Rodan for that matter, but something intrigued me about her from that point on, most likely having something to do with her participation on three of my favorite tracks from the album that started me on my path to indie-dom.
Strangely enough, however, it wasn’t until recently that I discovered just how much of an impact O’Neil has had on indie rock as a whole. Aside from her collaboration with Sebadoh and her status as a member of Rodan, she’s been a member of The Sonora Pine, King Cobra and Retsin, whilst collaborating with the likes of Ida and Come. Her latest effort, fourth solo album You Sound, Reflect, is an intriguing bit of subdued indie folk that shows her depth and versatility as a musician and songwriter.
You, Sound opens with the instrumental track “Take the Waking,” that swells and crashes like ocean waves. The next track, “Howl,” sounds more like Cat Power during her days of collaborating with The Dirty Three on Moon Pix. O’Neil is backed by Nora Danielson’s violin playing, which adds an undercurrent of melancholy beneath her sweet, unassuming voice.
Most of O’Neil’s songs are notable for what they aren’t – showy. Rather than make her songs overly indulgent or complex, O’Neil prefers to keep things simple and subtle. Everything is exactly where it should be. Rather than employ an entire string section, O’Neil lets one single violin sound on its own. And in a song like “The Poisoned Mine,” for instance, she uses subtle layers of violin and bass to add texture to the otherwise bare, acoustic track. Some shades of her past appear, however, as on the math-leaning “Love Song Long,” though on the whole, You Sound, Reflect is very much the work of a forward-thinking individual.
It’s amazing to think that I missed out on so much of Tara Jane O’Neil’s prior work, seeing as how she actually played on one of the first real indie albums I ever owned. But hearing how good You Sound, Reflect is, it might be time to start scouring her back catalogue.
Cat Power – Moon Pix
Songs: Ohia – The Lioness
Nina Nastasia – Run to Ruin
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.