Release Date: May 5, 2009
Record label: K
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Tara Jane O’Neil might not be the most instantly recognisable name in alt.rock, but she’s been involved in some of the most inventive US indie created in its late-’90s/early-’00s halcyon days. The Portland native has helped define the American South’s post-‘Spiderland’ musical identity in the shape of her work with June Of 44 and The Grifters as well as Low and Sebadoh. So it’s no surprise that on her seventh album she’s combined lo-fi elements of math, post-rock, bucolic folk and ambience to create an album of unique, dusky atmospherics.
Since her musical beginning as a bass player in the great Louisville, Ky., indie band Rodan, Tara Jane O'Neil has moved in all manner of directions. During the mid-1990s she formed Retsin, a folk-pop duo with the multi-instrumentalist and poet Cynthia Nelson. Then came The Sonora Pine, where she got her experimental chops in collaboration with former Lungfish guitarist Sean Meadows.
I have a hard time lumping Tara Jane O’Neil into the singer-songwriter genre to which she’s often resigned. Okay, she’s a folkie who primarily plays guitar, writes songs, and sings the songs she writes. But consider this: In the early ‘90s she sang and played bass in Rodan, the key developer of the fleshy, theatrical wing of math-rock. Its dissolution in 1994 spawned Rachel’s, June of 44 and O’Neil’s own Sonora Pine, three groups that nicely captured the post-rock tendencies of that decade.
Last year, Grouper’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill only made it into the DiS Lost of ’08 round-up, at the very end of the year. It’s a shame, because Tara Jane O’Neil isn’t merely 'in the same vein' (and hence recommended for anyone taken by Grouper’s folksy variant of shoegaze), but could almost be called 'the original'. In Tara Jane O’Neill’s world, percussion is rarely louder than a ticking clock marking the seconds through the sleepy days – a shaker, a tambourine, a set of keys.
A listener could be forgiven for falsely remembering chirping-cricket sound effects on the new Tara Jane O’Neil album, A Ways Away. Some combination of sleigh and gamelan bells, gently picked rhythm guitar, and distant-sounding tambourines infuses the album with a dusky, end-of-day quality. From the slow, spacious opener “Dig In” to the even slower, fuzz-and-reverb instrumental “The Drowning Electric,” the album’s languid, major-key songs seem themed to bridge twilight and darkness.