Second Of Spring
Every music writer has a band or an artist that they claim dominion over. A catalog of rare rock records that stands as their little dusty corner of the totality of recorded music. If the person you crib music advice from does not have such a band, don’t walk, run away, and run fast, don’t take their advice and do not read their reviews.
Black Tambourine is that band for me. In the late 80’s/early 90’s twee pop was bubbling to the surface in college rock scenes across the nation. While Beat Happening was rising in the Pacific Northwest, Black Tambourine was happening in Silver Springs, Maryland, a quartet of underground artists whose original output amounted to a couple of EPs and singles, gathered on one Complete Recordings omnibus that gave a view of their garage aesthetic meets radio friendly, jangle pop sound. In that very brief, three year period, the band produced a whole catalog of moody, three minute gems, characterized by fits of joy and melancholy, and Beaches feels like they took that influence.
Here is the truth both bands seem to know. Bittersweet can still have a fuck all sound.
At seventeen tracks and 76 minutes, Second Of Spring is a massive record. But make no mistake here though. Beaches didn’t simply leg a single out into a double here. This is a robust record that is worthy of its gargantuan sprawl. Taking a look at the scope of the band’s ambition and choice of abstract songs beyond the pop form, Black Tambourine may be a faulted access point; this is like vintage Sonic Youth, but less infatuated with noise. Imagine Kim Gordon as a California beach bum rather than a Bowery girl.
The record opens with a thunderclap of percussion on “Turning” a signal call that the band has arrived, before rolling off into a sweet, mellow groove. The band offers sublime guitar and vocal harmonies, like on “Be” which blows out with the catchy refrain, “this is not an illusion”. Or is it? The fusion of 60’s girl band/hit parade, 70’s psychedelic rock and some of the best retro-80’s garage rock, collides in a smoky haze. The band adds moments of swirly bliss, the vocals on “Void” feel spacey, uneasy. On “Natural Tradition” its in the seasick production, punctuated by ascendant guitars; conversely, the instrumentation on “Calendar” turns bittersweet, tending sour.
Like the best moments on a Sonic Youth (or Black Tambourine) album the ladies of Beaches make curious use of songwriting contrasts. On “Wine” they tug on opposite threads; on one hand the there is a lull that draws you into a miasmic feeling, while on the other, the riffs over the top are pulsating and energetic. It is contained in that tension where the beautiful and dusky oblivion really takes shape. Evoking their band name, so much of the album comes across like sandy grit (“Divers”) yet at the same time, the dizziness (“Bronze Age Babies”) and bopping naiveté (“When You’re Gone”) postulates that an undying existential grief can be relieved by a simple lover’s kiss.
Among the seventeen songs on the track list only a couple fell flat to my ear. Curiously, both of those arrive at the end of Second Of Spring. The penultimate, “Mothers And Daughters” never really gets off the ground, although it’s sound is tonally consistent with the rest of the record; similar criticism applies to the closer, “Mutual Delusion” which, at nearly nine minutes, is the longest effort. Again, it feels like a fit with the rest of the record but it’s just not there and seeing that these are two of the three longest tracks, one wonders if the chemistry is a product of the tension born out of confinement.
All told, this begins to bleed into album of the year territory for me. While primarily autumnal and hazy, Second Of Spring has the kind of depth that you can set it into motion any time. The overall tone is one of melancholy, but melancholy brimming with a verve. At every turn, this record successfully bleeds opposite effects – the sound is gauzy and crystalline, rough hewn but sensuous, devastating and thoroughly uplifting.
Do not miss Beaches, or specifically this record, for any reason. This may become your little album secret, if you’re lucky.