Don’t let the substandard artwork fool you, this is not a bunch of low-budget unknowns. To wit, the ingredients of Tuatara are culled from parts of REM and The Screaming Trees, not to mention the cameos by members of American Music Club (who else but Eitzel himself) and the Geraldine Fibbers. The Screaming Tree connection, at least, makes sense. Before the jam bands began to annoy most of the thinking members of the indulgent first world (the third world has its own problems), the Trees were doing a more reserved, tasteful version of “neo-psychedelic” rock. To an extent, Tuatara execute a similar, albeit more adult alternative, version of this pre-jam band hippiedom. East of the Sun seems more intent on staring pensively into a purple-orange desert sunset in reflection of one’s life’s triumphs, tragedies and whereabouts of one’s pension as opposed to jolting rock ‘n roll revolution in the apathetic, non-drafted iGeneration.
East of the Sun certainly isn’t sparse. In fact, it’s practically packed to the utmost capacity with banjos, trumpets, organs, cellos, violins, harmonicas, vibraphones, Arabic percussion, other types of percussion, sweetly sung vocals, hoarsely sung vocals, spoken vocals, backing vocals and at least two varieties of guitars. There are also appearances by leading flamenco and Arabic musicians. Admittedly, I’ve spent so much time hunkered down in the wide-open trenches of minimalism, I have taken for granted the magic of full orchestral coordination. This does not mean that I’m not totally bored with it. Perhaps it’s my age, perhaps it’s my more intense emotional investment in cynical punk rock and a tendency to artistically annoy than to artistically waft aimlessly in the breeze and make a really big, loud deal about it.
However, this is no discredit to the talents of the artists behind this. Peter Buck and friends are obviously very accomplished and known their way around scales and melodies. I’m sure there comes a time when some artists are tired of being alternative rock heroes and want to show how worldly they are. The contributions of the outside artists don’t hurt much and keep things less repetitive while sticking to the basic core of the album’s sound. Besides, anything that has something to do with Mark Eitzel must be interesting at the very least. But to add to the bigness of Tuatara’s vision, this album actually part of a conceptual whole. So once you’ve journeyed through the sun-scorched trails of East of the Sun in your worn sandals, it’s best to start a fire in the cooler and check, according to the band, the “more groovy and feminine” West of the Moon. And who said road trips had to be fun and without metaphorical depth or whatever the hell this is.
Tortoise – TNT
Critters Buggin – Bumpa
Cinematic Orchestra – Every Day