Album Review: Black Tambourine by Black Tambourine
Exceptionally Good, Based on 6 Critics
AllMusic - 90 Based on rating 9/10
Indie pop as concept, as lifestyle, as aesthetic -- none of it came out of nowhere, and as time passes, deeper roots will be created. But Black Tambourine's work, only a clutch of singles and compilation appearances during its active lifetime, remains one of those touchstones that seem to be endlessly referred back to. It's perhaps no surprise that they've warranted a complete career overview by Slumberland not once but, with the appearance of this self-titled collection in 2010, twice.
The story of Black Tambourine’s short run, as basic as it seems, doesn’t amount for the grandness in spirit they brought to independent music in the long run. It was a little over 20 years ago that the Washington, D.C. band made a few singles, toured a limited amount of time, and pretty much left what they originally planted to move on to further endeavors that proved to be more lengthy.
True, Black Tambourine already have a release entitled Complete Recordings that collects all 10 of the tunes released over their original lifespan, so the question regarding the moral integrity of reissuing their material in 2010 seems valid. Fortunately enough, for anyone well acquainted with the current indie pop scene, it’s pretty clear that Black Tambourine is not only appropriate, but entirely necessary. Given Slumberland’s return to prominence and fuzzy noise pop’s recent emergence in the headlines of music blogs everywhere—through the success of bands ranging from Vivian Girls, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Dum Dum Girls, and more—Black Tambourine’s initial consolidation of the strengths these artists have capitalized on provides a sorely needed sense of context and perspective to their fortunes.
"If there's any justice, Black Tambourine will see their name inserted into revisionist histories of American independent rock." So wrote Pitchfork's Chris Ott in his April 1999 review of Black Tambourine's Complete Recordings, and at the time, the line sounded like wishful thinking. After all, that compilation of the Washington, D.C. band's brief, brilliant career didn't surface at the most opportune time for a reassessment, given pre-millennial indie rock's aesthetic drift away from fuzz-covered slop-pop toward exploratory instrumentals (Tortoise, Mogwai) and folky formalism (Belle and Sebastian, Elliott Smith).
Gauzy shoegaze transcends its era Some reissues work because they winnow a voluminous discography down to manageable size. This one does the opposite. Washington, D.C., noise-poppers Black Tambourine had the briefest of careers between the ’80s and ’90s, and this new collection of the band’s complete works inflates its output from a prior compilation’s 10 songs to a whopping 16, four of them recorded a year ago.
Black Tambourine was one of the first acts on D.C. collective imprint Slumberland Records, peaking from the halcyon years of 1989-1991, when punk was "breaking" and 120 Minutes kept the alternative stable well-fed. The Maryland fourpiece may not have had much cachet originally, but theirs was a perfect squall: Pam Berry's cool-breeze vocals, eternally heartbroken, paired with blasts of white-hot feedback on "For Ex-Lovers Only" and "Pack You Up," both evoking a kinder, gentler My Bloody Valentine.