I go way back with Across Tundras.
I bought their first full-length, ‘Dark Songs Of The Prairie’, on a whim back in 2006 and fell in love with the dusty ‘Neil Young plays metal’ vibe. I kept up with them across time, hearing them mature, watching them move from label to label, trying to find a home, and liking some albums more than others. Right now, in 2011, Across Tundras seem to have finally found a home that truly appreciates them, with Neurot – as we all should know, Neurosis’ own label, and home to like-minded fellow travellers USX (the artists formerly known as US Christmas) – and have, in turn, delivered an album that easily ranks as one of their very best. Perhaps the best since their debut.
‘In The Name Of River Grand’ bursts in on a deceptively urgent drum crescendo before revealing its true colours – keening, twinkling guitar above a lazily languid liquid bassline like a river winding its way across an open plain. As the song progresses, the tempo is whipped up and taken back down again several times, until reaching a conclusion with a ‘Rawhide’-inflected rhythm and guitar part, bolstered with the sound of a relatively low-key brass section, giving a mariachi feel to the more up-tempo moments.
Elsewhere, ‘Buried Arrows’ has a sweet female voice entwined with that of mainman and guitarist Tanner Gates Olson, and an eastern modality to its entrancing pulse, like a downhome version of the Velvet Underground classic ‘Venus In Furs’, and ‘The Book Of Truth’ and ‘Mean Season Movin’ On’ have the feel of a rough-hewn alternate-garage-band-dimension Neurosis to their dark, slashing guitars and tumbling tribalistic drumming.
This darkness also makes itself felt in the slow and brooding ‘Tchulu Junction’, wherein the sucking molasses-thick bass undertow sounds and feels like it could bend gravity itself, and also informs the dramatic, propulsive instrumental closer ‘Shunka Sapa’, as it throbs and pulses ‘Sage’ to a close.
Vocally, Olson gives a very naturalistic, understated performance that occasionally touches on aspects of Live frontman Ed Kowalcyk, and has a tone that is reminiscent of the less ‘grunge’ moments of Paw frontman Mark Hennessy. In fact Across Tundras do cross over, occasionally, into a similar space to that which was occupied by the underrated countrified southern grungers of Paw, albeit in a more ornate and baroque way than the rough-housin’ Kansas quartet.
Once again, the prairie winds blow Across Tundras across my path, tumbleweed-like, and, once again, I am thankful for it. I can only hope that they have found a home to bring them stability at Neurot, and maybe more people will get a chance to hear and appreciate their unique sound.
Listen to the track ‘Tchulu Junction’ below.
Scribed by: Paul Robertson