Artist You Should Know: Black Tambourine

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By KCRW DJ Marion Hodges:

BT-Cover-6To understand exactly how important Black Tambourine is to the history of pop music – and American pop music especially – you probably had to be deeply into the underground music scene in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. I was not. I was still very young, and very much enraptured with whichever Andrew Lloyd Webber soundtrack, or top 40 hit my mom was blasting from the speakers of her Ford Aerostar. However, even though it took me well into my ‘20’s to discover the understated brilliance that was Black Tambourine, upon first listen I knew that I had come across something incredibly special.

Sure enough, it was not long after discovering Black Tambourine that I heard a young band from Brooklyn called the Pains of Being Pure at Heart who were doing a very similar version of that fuzzy, guitar-focused sound. It was epic in the most understated way possible, ‘60s girl group pop style filtered through ‘90s D.I.Y. flair, clearly indebted to the U.K., but undeniably American. Then came Vivian Girls, and Dum Dum Girls/The Mayfair Set, and Crystal Stilts

Therefore, I wasn’t surprised to hear that Oakland-based Slumberland Records is deciding now to release a new collection of Black Tambourine recordings. The label itself sprang to life around the same time as it’s flagship band (the label’s founder and current mastermind Mike Shulman was Black Tambourine’s guitarist), and though it endured a brief hiatus a few years back, it wasn’t enough to keep the label from celebrating it’s 20-year anniversary this past year.

The new, self-titled compilation expounds on the ten songs that once were the entirety of the bands recorded output. They’re all here in their brilliant fuzzed out glory, joined by demos of two of the band’s most beloved songs “For Ex-Lovers Only,” and “Throw Aggi Off the Bridge,” plus four songs that were never released when the band was active.

The four “new” ones were finally recorded for release in 2009 from each band member’s respective corner of the world.  The demos don’t do much other than offer a glimpse of the gems they would eventually become, but the new songs are treasures; two covers, two originals, each an example that this is still a band in top form.

Their singular sound has always seemed to me a fabulous series of contradictions. It contains as much ease as it does urgency, as much sophistication as it does playfulness, and a whole lot of overall substance without a whole lot of pretension.  Perhaps it’s no wonder that so many contemporary bands are striving for that sound.

Head over to the Slumberland store to preview the album, and experience the highest level of noise-pop bliss your ear buds can be expected to handle. And let’s all hope for a reunion tour…