Fresh from the open prairie, old world wanderer Tanner Olson and his world-weary ragged band have ridden back into town to peddle their windswept dusty wares once again. Electric Relics follows 2011’s exemplary Sage, and whilst that particular opus was released by Neurot, Olson and the boys have taken the brave step of forming their own label and taking full charge of the fruit of their own labours this time.
Having drifted, tumbleweed-like, from label to label since Crucial Blast had the good taste to release their debut, Dark Songs Of The Prairie, back in 2006, it seems that an appreciative home was the only thing that Across Tundras lacked. Well, I guess if you want a job doing…..
True to their usual form of organic progression, Electric Relics is a somewhat of a step-up again from Sage, something that is no mean feat when I consider exactly how much I enjoyed that recording.
Nonetheless, there is an openness and immediacy to this recording that just pulls me in straight away. Maybe it’s that Across Tundras have become so good at this thing that they do, their own sense of comfort and ease has translated through the music to the ears of the listener, or maybe this is just a damn good album. Hell, it’s probably both.
One thing that most certainly adds to the warmth of the overall tone herein is the production work of Olson and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Mikey Allred, two pairs of ears that really should know the band’s sound better than anyone.
The sound that Olson and Allred have captured really is a distillation of everything that came before, a heady brew of dust-caked americana, Sabbath-esque guitar murk, Neil Young ragged blues, the pained soulful country of Hank Williams, the acid-fried psych of Sun City Girls circa Torch Of The Mystics, a pinch of Floyd and the analogue punch of a rhythm section that I haven’t heard so well captured since the heady days of the very first Masters Of Reality album.
Yessir, quite the powerful concoction.
Chiming in with bell-like cymbals, acidic Rick Bishop-esque guitars and warm, rich, syrupy bass, ‘Pining For The Gravel Roads’ does exactly what you want an opener to do – it shows new listeners exactly what Across Tundras are capable of and welcomes the familiar in with a show of exactly what the four-piece does best.
Comparisons can be made to latter-day Earth material, but where Olson and co may well share a number of influences with Dylan Carson, Across Tundras take a more forceful and focussed approach, kicking much harder than the laid-back sparsity of Earth’s work since Hex. Down ‘n’ dirty would be the watchwords for Electric Relics.
From the rootsy Stonesy feel of its opening section through to its Sabbath-gone-drone denouement, ‘Den Of Poison Snakes’ is a real kicker, and following it with the smeary echoing atmospheres of ‘Kiln Of The First Flame’ really serves to break things up and show the contrasts that the band work with. Another relatively up-tempo punchy number, the eastern-rhythm-n-blues of ‘Driftless Caravan’ follows, bringing a Thirteenth Floor Elevators feel and a gorgeous bass undertow, itself followed by another brief interlude – the acoustic ‘Seasick Serenade’ – and the rocking ‘Castaway’ with its big ol’ chorus.
Crystalline, mournful country blues is the order of the day for the downbeat-but-hopeful ‘Solar Ark’, all shimmering tremolo guitar and bookended by keening slide wail, leaving only the deep-space transmission of ‘Unfortunate Son’ to close proceedings with its hazy, murky atmosphere, squealing sonar bleeps and bloops and generally frazzled demeanour.
Seven albums into their career, it sounds as though Across Tundras are finally ‘home’, so to speak, and here’s hoping that doing things for themselves and going their own way leads to more music like this. They really do just keep getting better and better.
Scribed by: Paul Robertson