(Editor’s Note: I’m a vegetarian. Check out this picture of Talbot Tagora, the subject of today’s review. I didn’t put it in the post proper because I didn’t want to appear to advocate or condone such wanton fish abuse on the site. I’d like to imagine that the fish in the picture were lovingly returned to the stream from whence they were plucked or, even better, are convincing rubber facsimiles. Either way, I’d like to address Talbot Tagora directly for a moment before diving into the review: Folks: Fish are our friends. It’s a testament to the quality of your record that I can’t get it out of my ears even though you apparently hate fish. I’m going to say nice things about the record on my website, but, in the future, please treat our aquatic brethren with a skosh more kindness. Thanks!)
We’ve had some records over the past month or so that have been a breeze to figure out; records that you can hear two minute snippets of and understand pretty quickly what’s going on. As in: “Oh! I get it! This is a folk record!” or “I know all the records this band has listened to since they were in seventh grade!” or “Ah! This is an indie pop album!” Those records are nice. They’re comforting. They make us feel like there is order and predictability in the world, a broadly defined pattern that’s easy to discern. They can also lead to a little bit of ennui. As in: “Oh. I get it. Another (insert slightly overused genre here) record. Ho-hum.” There are times when we long for records that play like Zen koans, where spin after spin yield the same questions and diminishingly few answers. As in: “What the hell is going on here?” or “What just happened?” or “Why is this record so entertaining, but so difficult to understand?” Those kinds of records, the ones that force some internal dialogue, stir up some cognitive dissonance, that refuse to be wedged into an easy-to-label box are nice to grapple with on occasion. Talbot Tagora’s upcoming full length Lessons in the Woods or a City, is such a record. It’s got some clear punk roots, some relationship to noise rock, some overtly dissonant components that are often counter-balanced with moments of stunning consonance, lyrical content that’s just barely outside of comprehensible and, overall, the stamp of smart people doing smart things. I’ve been hammering away, trying to squeeze out meaning and unity, at it since it appeared in my mailbox. I’m not making a lot of headway, but it’s certainly a fun way to wile away a summer day.
There are fourteen songs on Lessons in the Woods or a City. They all sound like Talbot Tagora and not much else. This “Talbot Tagora sound” is really specific and clear on each track; drop this record into a playlist on the ipod, hit shuffle and you’ll be certain to know when a Talbot Tagora song plays. The components are best presented, I think, as lists. Things that are present in nearly all the songs: dense guitars, frenetic, mildly out of whack percussion, vocals that are mumbled to begin with and then cloaked in a layer of semi-heavy distortion, a point where things breakdown and shift either subtly or dramatically. Things that are not present at all: predictability (which is weird, because the songs all sound strikingly similar), elements that could be perceived as comforting, resolution. So. Given that, it’s a strangely rewarding listening experience. When snippets of lyrics jump out, they provide a certain satisfaction, a feeling that the listener has accomplished something; when bits of the instrumentation verge on catchiness, it’s like a beam of sunshine. The record’s appeal is that you want to sort out what’s going on. It’s easy (perhaps) to make a record that’s a bunch of incomprehensible gunk that doesn’t hang together or offer any insight into the universe. Talbot Tagora have managed the (presumably) much more challenging feat of producing a record that’s both mildly incomprehensible and deeply intriguing; there are answers under that layer of fuzz. This band is saying things that are important, but making them hard to grasp.
There are some moments on the record that stand out. “Mouth Rainboy” is the track that I keep going back to, both for it’s nicely representative feel, and it’s perversely catchy repeated lyrics. “We can treat him really bad if we want to, cause he likes it, he’s a masochist.” (I might have the first phrase there wrong and it sounds like it changes each time it’s sung, but I can’t quite get to the bottom of the words it changes to; further, there are words included in the packaging of the CD, but I’m 90% certain that they don’t line up directly with the words in the songs. When this thing drops on July 21, please help me out. Listen to the song and put your take on the lyrics in the comments. Even easier, if you are a member of the Seattle-based trio (Mark Greshowak – guitar, bass, vocals, Ani Ricci – drums and Chris Ando – guitar, vocals), please send me a detailed e-mail describing what I’m missing. Thanks.) “Johnny Lazor” is another winner, with a mildly disturbing high guitar line that drives right into your brain. In total though, this album is about the journey, not the individual stops. Due in part to the uniformity of the sound, it’s tough to identify singular tracks that stand above their peers. This is one to hit play on track one and step away from.
Lesson in the Woods or a City is worth the effort it demands. Unlike some of those records that are easy to figure out, when you start to soak this one in, you’re going to feel like you’ve done something productive with your day. You’re probably not going to be spinning this record at the next family picnic, but you’ve already got enough tunes that fit that bill anyway. In other news, this is funny as hell and I have no idea if it’s important or not.