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Tanakh - Villa Claustrophobia

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Artist: Tanakh

Album: Villa Claustrophobia

Label: Alien8

Review date: May. 6, 2002

Tanakh's Villa Claustrophobia "is undoubtedly the most accessible release to surface on Alien8 Recordings thus far. While not a pop record by any stretch of the imagination, most of the recording is made up of actual songs, which for the most part is new territory for us," proclaim the brains behind Montreal experimental label Alien8 Recordings. They don't sound entirely comfortable with their change in direction-- Tanakh's "actual songs" are usually heavy-handed, acoustic guitar-based dirges that feel like they're filling space until the noise commences. The lyrics are poorly suited to the music, and the transitions between the songs and the drones seem unmotivated.

The drones themselves, however, are another story. Tanakh frontman Jesse Poe, who has produced the Idiatrod and Pelt, creates enveloping, dark clouds of sound that are equal parts North Indian raga, minor-key twang (courtesy of Dirty Three guitarist Mick Turner), and hovering electronic whoosh. The unsurprisingly excellent recording allows the noise to get under the listener's skin-- Tanakh fills the headphones nearly as well as Labradford at their best.

Unfortunately, the solemnity of the group's music puts their "actual songs" on awkward footing from the beginning. Tanakh's aching bassoon swells, death-march string arrangements and pristine feedback hum share their epic, self-important feel with the likes of Set Fire To Flames and Godspeed You Black Emperor! This is consistently serious music, with nary a spark of humor or hope. While the seriousness isn't bad in itself, it puts the lyricist in an difficult position: what are you supposed to sing over this stuff?

Poe attacks the problem from a variety of perspectives, from Confused Lover ("I know that he doesn't love you/ 'Least not as much as me/ I can't go on living/ If you won't let me be/ Pleeeeaaassse...") to Horny Old Man ("And then I dream/ I die in your unscathed arms/ My precious little lamb"). His lyrics often succeed only in pushing Tanakh over the fine line between serious and unintentionally hilarious. The group even covers the saucy English folk tune "Gently Johnny," the lyrics of which ("I put my hand on her belly/ She says/ 'Do you want to fill me?'") sound ridiculous against Tanakh's plodding tempo and plangent trumpet solo.

Poe's songs are doubly hard to swallow because of his brooding-baritone delivery and Tanakh's tendency to accompany all of the "actual songs" with rudimentary and clumsy acoustic-guitar strumming-- it's easy to tell which parts were played by the incomparable Turner and which were not. Worse, many of the songs snap off abruptly, then segue awkwardly into feedback-drenched noise sections that are far more interesting. This makes me wish Villa Claustrophobia were just a feedback/noise album. Tanakh's goal of combining Song with Drone is a noble one, but it's been attempted more convincingly by, for example, Roy Montgomery, Drekka, and Flying Saucer Attack. Tanakh may find an audience among diehard fans of those artists, but others will be put off by the band's melodramatic and graceless songs.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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