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Artist: Black Tambourine

Album: Black Tambourine

Label: Slumberland

Review date: Mar. 29, 2010


Black Tambourine - "For Ex-Lovers Only" (Black Tambourine)


Prior to this compilation, the complete nine-song output of Black Tambourine was on a 10” record called Complete Recordings. There was something apropos in that always-a-bridesmaid format for this band. It imbued the record at once with modesty and willfulness, as though Slumberland (whose head, Mike Schulman, was in the band) had some shyness about Black Tambourine’s incredible importance while also indulging the record-geekiness that informed their sound. Finding the record gave one a feeling of being in on a secret.

That teen-bedroom emotion makes Black Tambourine inimitable. The idea behind their sound has such obvious logic that ripping it off is almost redundant: take the Jesus and Mary Chain reconstruction of the Wall-Of-Sound as feedback, and out-Spectorize JAMC by sinking a pure-voiced female singer deep into the mix. Other bands did it, and still do, but somehow Black Tambourine did it best. The weirdly overdriven guitar tone on their cover of Love’s “Can’t Explain” jars even after a million listens. Few songs build as thrillingly as the cacophony of “For Ex-Lovers Only,” as the bass rhythm, the toms’ beat and the screech of feedback that begin completely off-kilter resolving in the most plaintive teen-style chorus possible: “Please don’t cry / I’d like to die / Just turn around and say goodbye.

Pam Berry’s voice, so bummed and so clean, imbues the noise with completely believable sentiment. Her lyrics about how she’s been watching boys, and how they break her heart, and how they should just push their other girlfriends into a river and date her instead, ring like a sullen best friend’s tales of woe that always beg the question “Wait, did he have any idea you liked him before he kissed that other girl in front of you?” These songs are about themselves, their characters the kind of people who would track them down: at once snobby and shy, dreamy and pessimistic. Consequently, they demand sharing, because once heard, they must be replayed for the person, or in the situation, they describe.

Between 1989 and 1992, Black Tambourine released two 7” EPs and several comp tracks, and played a miniscule number of shows in the D.C. area. Their pithy discography — a kind of ur-record of indie-pop, ripped off knowingly and unknowingly — is part of their magic: nine songs, one of which is a dinky instrumental called “Pam’s Tan.” The additional songs here (two demos, two new originals, and two newly recorded covers) are fine, but extraneous, as illustrated by the ugly cover art, which relocates the original Black Tambourine logo as a button on some oddly colored denim jacket. One might term it “gilding the lily,” but what a moody, reluctant lily Black Tambourine would be.

By Talya Cooper

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