Black Tambourine – Black Tambourine

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Excavating the past can be a little embarrassing. Discovering some great band from my youth that was unknown to me at the time sometimes makes me think “why wasn’t I listening to this and what the hell was I listening to instead?” While I am not prone to cutting myself slack, I think I can be forgiving of my absolute ignorance of Black Tambourine, who were a blip on the scene and whose importance was only made apparent later. Formed in Silver Spring, Maryland in 1989, Black Tambourine ended up having an outsized influence on American indie. Guitarist Archie Moore was in Velocity Girl at the same time, and Brian Nelson eventually joined Velocity Girl as well. Band member (drummer?) Mike Schulman founded the influential Slumberland label, and vocalist Pam Berry, who had co-founded the Chickfactor zine, went on to sing for bands like Veronica Lake, Glo-Worm and the Castaway Stones.

What I Think of This Album

Listening to this, you hear the first stirrings of American shoegaze, and the inspiration for scores of domestic indie bands. It’s not hard to draw the line from Black Tambourine to Vivian Girls (“For Ex-Lovers Only”), The Pains of Being Pure At Heart (“We Can’t Be Friends”), or Veronica Falls (“Black Car”). It’s all the more impressive because the band lasted approximately two years and released just nine original songs, one an instrumental (their tenth released song was a Love cover). This album adds two demos and four songs recorded by a reconstituted Black Tambourine in 2009 – those songs date back to the band’s active period and which, while played live, had never been committed to tape. And honestly, the songs are pretty awesome.

The hooky lead bass on the darkly ethereal “Black Car” is magnificent, and the noise pop of rumbly “For Ex-Lovers Only” is timeless. “Pack You Up” is basically the American version of a 4AD single. The cover of Love’s “Can’t Explain” sounds like kids who have learned that adding Jesus and Mary Chain sonics improves most songs by 300%. “Throw Aggi Off the Bridge” is an insular, hilarious, and heartfelt, as well as highly melodic, tumbledown plea to Pastels’ leader Stephen Pastel to dispose of Pastels’ keyboardist Aggi Wright (Shop Assistants) and make room in his heart for the narrator. The drums on this are fantastic; the demo version adds a whammy bar inflection at one point (2:12, to be more or less exact) that will make you stand up and cheer.

Releasing the short instrumental “Pam’s Tan” as the band’s very first single was a weird decision. The nervy “I Was Wrong” and speedy, distortion-laden “We Can’t Be Friends” are delightful. “Drown” is a girl-group number that predicts the 2009 recording of Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat” and is just okay. There is a calming, deep, foreboding to “By Tomorrow,” with its trance-inducing bass line and waves of distortion.

Kudos to the band for recording the 2009 songs in a way that sounds exactly like the 1990 songs; tracks “Lazy Heart” (with sludgy bass and a xylophone) and double-timed “Tears of Joy” fit in nicely with the original, original songs. That said, the greatest revelation from the more recently recorded tracks is the cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream,” (more xylophone!) which sounds like a kinder, gentler Spacemen 3 (who also covered Suicide).

“Throw Aggi Off the Bridge” is referenced (along with about 500 other indie pop signifiers) in the classic Tullycraft song, “Fuck Me, I’m Twee.” If you care at all about indie, you need to own this album.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Throw Aggi Off the Bridge” is an indie-pop classic for a reason BUT . . . listen to the scuzzier demo version because it hits different.

Release Date

March, 2010

The Cover Art

Yeah, I like this. Simple and direct, and I am a huge fan of denim jackets. Also, props for adding a glossy texture to the button (or badge, as they would say in the UK).

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