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Tamam Shud - Evolution

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Artist: Tamam Shud

Album: Evolution

Label: EM

Review date: Aug. 22, 2007

In the late ’60s, director Paul Witzig traveled the globe, 16mm camera in tow, shooting silent footage of some of Australia’s top surfers on the shores of North Africa, Puerto Rico, France and Portugal, as well as in locations all over their homeland. The end result was Evolution, and though the IMDb doesn’t list any Witzig works outside of being a camera operator on Bruce Brown’s classic surf documentary The Endless Summer, enthusiasts of the sport tell a remarkably different tale.

Evolution is thought of by aficionados as one of the crucial surf films for a few reasons – chief among them the lack of dialogue, and how Witzig allowed the skill of his subjects and the depth of its soundtrack to guide the narrative. As one of the bands contracted for its soundtrack, Tamam Shud created an album’s worth of material, composed to projections of the raw footage Witzig collected on his shoots. It’s not a film I’ve seen, nor is it readily available outside of VHS bootlegs, but if the music here is any indication, I’m sold.

Tamam Shud (meaning “the end” in Persian, so claims their liner notes) existed in an earlier incarnation as the Sunsets, and frontman Lindsay Bjerre had been commissioned to write original music for Witzig’s previous surf doc, The Hot Generation. The nature of this working relationship must have been a trusting one, as it’s hard to imagine a whole film playing out to hard psych this undeniably cool. Bjerre’s band (Zac Zytnik on guitar, Peter Barron on bass, and drummer Dannie Davidson) were joined in the studio by Peter Lockwood and Michael Carlos of the band Tully, whose group’s music also appeared in Evolution. Though their music sounds a bit out of the moment for its 1969 studio date, its blues structures and full, lively arrangements survive any sort of serious aging for all but the most detail-oriented collector.

Chunks of Australia’s underground rock history are only now becoming known to world audiences, with Aztec’s dynamite reissue series, and long-rumored compilations by early Lobby Loyde groups like the Wild Cherries coming to the fore. That said, there doesn’t seem to be much historical mention of Tamam Shud, even in the collectors’ niches of record, and no earlier reissues barring a Radioactive label offering of dubious legality. Evolution should do well to right that wrong. This is an astounding, wild, free sounding album, steeped in the Beatles and Hendrix in just the right ways, much as it is with inspiration from the sun, surf and sand – the sand especially, as the organic and gritty production of Evolution gives the feeling of granular, between-the-toes crunch. The big, rounded, feedback-studded fuzz on the guitars here is astounding, with a hollow-body or possibly acoustic origin that works its way into the composition of slow, evocative minuets like “I’m No One” and “Jesus Guide Me,” and billows throughout the heart and veins of the harder tracks that surround them.

There are plenty of mistakes in the playing, but somehow they only add to the character of these tracks, which flow out of the performers as easily as breath. Songs sound as if they’d just been written, as melodies climb the scales with trepidation before locking into bass runs and expressive, lyric soloing. Bjerre’s clear, high tenor, which counts off most of the songs here, fits impressively alongside the guitar tones, with a bit of a yodeling quality in spots that puts him in the class of belters like Family’s Roger Chapman, but with a more palatable, less manic range. He’s still able to break off a scream or two, but that’s not where he’s heading, so when it does happen, it makes the moment that much more righteous. Moreover, he knows when to hold back and let the guitars do the talking, as graceful lines open their parachute into tastefully wild psychedelic scatter. As a group, their album plays out as effortless, beatific rock, a successful and non-excessive jam session with incredible character and one-of-a-kind surge, even going as far as to imbue surf guitar with more modern, even progressive, influences, as the tension created in album closer “Too Many Life” suggests.

This Japanese reissue of Evolution, part of EM Records’ surf soundtrack series, includes 1971’s Bali Waters EP, three cleaner songs with the progressive tack reaching to the fore. Bjerre sounds as strong as he did on the album, but the band is a little more reined in, with a polish that still evokes a surfborne spirit. These three tracks are fine, but not as gloriously blasted out as the album, as if the group was waiting for their career to foment. Still, it’s not a bad way to finish off such a satisfying album, a true surprise in a time where hundreds of psych reissues of almost random quality surface at ridiculous prices. It’s nice to roll with a winner now and again.

By Doug Mosurock

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