|Words for Snow /
Tristan da Cunha split CD
from Lost at Sea
It is a sad fact that when
given a split album, I will always compare one side to
the other. This divided effort is no exception, marking
the highs higher and the lows lower, but such is life.
Here, we begin with a lull before the explosion.
A while back I reviewed another Losing Blueprint record, Fiesel's The Ruins of This Life. I praised its fantastic,angular sound and the amazing power it boasted. It was one 2002's better albums. And then the time came to give another Losing Blueprint act a listen. album. Tristan Da Cunha. Their self-titled debut album. Ooh boy.
They call it "scientist rock." Or, rather, "mad scientist rock." This, of course, because of the complicated time measures and the meticulously fine-tweaked, complex sound. And the "rock" part - well, that's because they really do rock. I mean seriously. You've all heard your fair share of "math rock" out there - lots of is just as boring as all heck. But what Tristan Da Cunha have done - well, they've mixed their complicated sound with a much more primal, thrilling style. Beneath the complexity, they attack the ears with a barrage of jerky rhythms, blasting guitar, and fine-ass melody. It's kind of like a more vibrant Faraquet.
To pick out particular tracks is a worthless exercise. The songs flow together so perfectly that, hey, "Jesus Marches With a Little Spider" and "Narcosynthesis" may have different names, and may be completely different songs, but their spasmodic, crazy sounds go hand-in-hand. Who wants to classify? This music is for listening, bitch.
And I guess that's the essence of this whole record. You listen, you enjoy, and in the end you're so friggin' fried by the music that you don't want to examine what you've just heard. You just sit up, put your finger down on the little forward-triangle, and let the speakers work their magic.
- Matt Shimmer
Crazed math-rock from a Boston trio evokes everyone from the Fall to the Dismemberment Plan to Superchunk. Tristan da Cunha plays an angular festival of forced-march riffs, tromping up and down terrain that changes with every measure. They build a psychotic, strobe-lighted disco where dancers fall to the ground in exhausted frenzy after trying to dance to misshapen but insistent beats. They can't help but bust stuff up, even in the slower songs, but they're using space-age radar guns, not brute force, to wreak havoc.
Most of the tracks pit the vocalist's mad spoken-word rants over the fractalized anarchy of guitar, drums and bass. Cuts like "Jesus Marches with a Little Spider" and "Too Many Boats" have a disturbing internal logic that doesn't quite map to the real world. It's a little like Mark E. Smith might sound if he hired Superchunk for a backing band and told them to put one to three extra beats in every measure.
The best tracks -- standouts include "Song Number Three", "Little White Sneakers" and "Narcosynthesis" -- are the more melodic ones, blending occasionally-syrupy harmonies with the bracing acerbity of off-balance drums and odd lyrics. "Little White Sneakers", for instance, contains an extended section where the singer repeatings the phrase "I'll push you off the mat", which makes it a song about either wrestling or some kind of weird sexual ritual -- or maybe, god help us, a little of both. Similarly, "Re: Maeve (Everybody Knows)", despite its quiet, fairly lyric opening, soon degenerates (or blossoms, depending on how you look at things) into a fast rant of "Everybody knows / The French make the best music / Everybody knows / The Swiss make the best chocolate..." The whole thing is bizarrely compelling, because the singer barks out these lines like they are crucial information, the kind of thing we will run into real trouble without knowing.
This is dance music from a parallel universe. This is poetry fresh out of an insane asylum. This is rock and roll filtered through a prism into extraterrestrial rainbows. This is not a test. This is Tristan da Cunha.
- Jennifer Kelly
Damn, it amazes me how strong first releases of many up-and-coming bands can be sometimes. Boston-based Tristan da Cunha's debut eponymous LP is yet another example of three youngsters writing fresh music that manages to hit you where it hurts, which is in the fucking groin. And it's relentless. Throughout its eight tracks, the trio treks through truckloads of triangular tunes that track the territorial tenants of its ilk. But this tracking doesn't necessarily imply never crossing paths. Truthfully, there's little legroom for originality, considering nearly every song criss-crosses paths with the likes of Les Savy Fav ("Song Number Three"), Dismemberment Plan ("Re: Maeve (Everybody Knows)"), Sweep the Leg Johnny ("Jesus Marches with a Little Spider"), Faraquet ("Post-Adolescent Philosophy"), etc. But what sets Tristan apart from the more well-known angular math rock bands is that they make each minute count, leaving little treats every couple minutes for sticking with them-- and it makes it all worthwhile. Periodically, they'll do something that seems completely out of sync but, in retrospect, makes perfect sense. Album highlight "Too Many Boats" is a prime example. Don't know what I'm talking about, do you? Well, listen for yourself. If this album was on one of the double D's (Dischord, DeSoto), indie rockers everywhere would be eating this shit up. However, with the few bands I've heard so far from the label Losing Blueprint, I say fuck the D.C. scene and make room for more alternative voices! Let's march!
- mr. p
Do you like noise? Louder
the better? Tristan Da Cunha is your band. From the same
vein of rock that started with Fugazi and evolved into
Rage Against the Machine and At The Drive In, TDC gets in
your face as doesn't let up until they're through
pummelling you with riff after riff.
"I don't care about the mutant chickens! cries the opening line of Jesus Marches with a Little Spider, the lead track of this self-titled debut effort from Tristan Da Cunha. It would lead you to believe that the album has the capability of being a little demented, and you would not be wrong in such an assumption. The lyrics remain abstract throughout the remainder of the album, but not quite as peculiar as the aforementioned line. I admit that I cited it mainly to grab your attention, much as the band uses it to pull you in from the start. But these songs are not simple narratives, and will take a good deal of puzzling over to understand. Everybody knows the French make the best music! Everybody knows the Swiss make the best cheese! Luckily, the vocals are easily palatable, from the calm crooning to the wilder screeches, so even if the oddball lyrics occasionally throw you off, it's not for very long. The same goes for the angular guitar work. There are times when the melodies are gently plucked and laid out for you, but those moments are vastly overshadowed by speedy screeches and howls. The rhythms are equally frantic, with hardly a single one of them lasting for more than a few seconds before it either erupts into a wall of noise or completely turns itself inside out and switches directions. But the album isn't quite the chaotic mess you may imagine. Songs like Re: Maeve (Everybody Knows) feature some rather coherent grooves that hold everything together. There are also occasional moments of downright melodic rock, but they usually don't last terribly long and are often beaten to death by the craziness that follows. In the end, Tristan Da Cunha is a worthy addition to the overpopulated post-rock crowd. The band doesn't do anything remarkable enough to set itself apart from the slew of comparable acts, but it doesn't let things get out of control, knowing how to rock in a crafty and intelligent way.
- Eddie Fournier
You ever wonder why so much of the photographry on Dischord releases and in their catalogs is in black and white? I'm pretty sure color photography existed back in the late 80s when Fugazi released their self-titled album and the "3 Songs" 7". So why do both have black and white photos on the cover? Why is so much of Instrument black and white? Was it just more punk to be archaic? Or was it something about distilling the images to black and white which better conveyed the feeling of the music and scene at that time?
Fifteen years later and post-punk is having a sort of come-back, but few make direct references to all the DC bands, perhaps because Fugazi was able to stay relevant for so long while most of the British and New York bands simply came and went. Well, Tristan da Cunha hasn't forgotten about DC hardcore. They play it fast, hard, and loud, but in a completely anti-fasionable yet accessible way. Ask Tristan da Cunha about the black and white Dischord photos, and they'd read the feeling of isolation that was such a part of the underground hardcore scene of that time. Even their band name riffs off this feeling of isolation, as Tristan da Cunha is a name of an island due west from South Africa that Guiness marks as the "most isolated inhabited island in the world."
So the key question is, when I listen to Tristan da Cunha's reinterpretation of 15 year old DC hardcore, do I feel nostalgic? Do I feel and appreciate it on its own merits? Or am I just disinterested? Turns out its more of the latter. While the band has energy and a moderate amount of chops, many of the songs here use a funk-like jittery rhythmic style that mildly annoys and spoken, easily-overpowered vocals that fail to demand the listener's attention. I appreciate what they're trying to do, but I just couldn't get into it.
- Jim Steed
from The Noise
This is your basic three-guys-who-decided-to-go-buy-instruments-and-start-a-band-because-they-were-bored-outta-their-tits-and-as-a-result-have-nothing-worthwhile-to-say-about-anything-so-they-try-to-be-artsy-to-make-up-for-it-and-write-a-bunch-of-largely-unlistenable-scattershot-crap-with-awful-song-titles-about-stuff-like-Jesus-Marching-With-Spiders-and-Little-White-Sneakers-and-Too-Many-Boats-and-Narcosynthesis-and-even-something-called-Post-Adolsecent-Philosophy-(!!!)-and-do-lotsa-screwy-time-signatures-for-no-apparent-reason-with-lotsa-pointless-stop-and-start-moments-that-sound-like-they-wanna-be-fIREHOSE-and-a-cover-painting-of-something-I-think-is-either-a-bleached-corndog-or-an-ottoman-and-no-one-in-the-band-is-actually-named-Tristan-Da-Cunha-and-let's-be-as-oblique-and-indirect-and-skewed-and-indecipher-able-and-grating-and-"energetic"-as-possible-and-see-if-anyone-actually-falls-for-this-shit-kinda-record.
- Joe Coughlin
Tristan da Cunha is a threesome from Boston that announces their presence with chaotic but not obscure modern rock using loud drums and a new approach to melody. While not profoundly harmonic, Tristan uses this to their advantage with the sound that all the `The` bands are trying for now but without falling flat on their lego-inspired-videos faces. Certainly Tristan isn`t a record company`s wet dream but they`re the indie rocker who enjoys knowing more about music and philosophy than how to get out of their parents` basement is shopping musty record shops looking desperately for that clichéd disc. But hey that ain`t all that bad and neither is a handful of songs on this disc with Song Number Three clearly being the winner.
/ Knockout Fly 7 inch
from Punk Planet #49, May/June 2002:
Geeky-funk-punk. Dude, the
backup singer sounds straight outta Supernova.
So, Steve Gisselbrecht writes a review of every show he sees, and he's been to nearly every show we've played in Boston lately. You can read his reviews here.
from The Noise (Nov 03)
excerpted from The
Northeast Performer (Nov 2000)