Sunday, May 3, 2009

postpunk on the prairie: TAR (part II)

Apologies for the update delay, life does intrude occasionally for your humble blogger.

Events have conspired to force me to suspend indefinitely my Joy Division/New Order postings. I can't say exactly what, but it's actually a pretty funny reason. Someday there's an incredible story to be told.

So instead we're going to revisit a prior featured artist, Tar. Why? Because I can.

Some time ago we featured Tar's 3rd full-length record, Toast. That record is still in print.

The records featured today are not, however, having gone OOP with the fading away of label Amphetamine Reptile.

Before they had developed their signature Tar sound (ref. Toast), they sounded a bit more derivatve of the scene they arose from: 80s Chicago punk, specifically Naked Raygun's sound and Big Black's vocals. After an EP, a couple 7" singles and their first record, they lost a bassist, gained a new one and kept developing. And as is common, suddenly they hit the magic note one day and created their own unique sound, first evidenced in full with 1991's Jackson - the band's second full-length.

And you frankly can't discuss Tar without discussing drummer Mike Greenlees' steady use of the ride cymbal (that "ding ding ding ding ding" cymbal sound that comes up on every Tar song at one point or another), it's so 1970s you can't help but laugh.

So allow me to present the following:

1988 - "Play To Win" / "Mel's" 7"
(No Blow Records, NBLW 01)

01 Play To Win
02 Mel's

Recorded by Steve Albini, this is the band's self-released debut. Very much of its time and place in the Chicago punk scene, it sounds more Naked Raygun than anything else. Perhaps a weird melding of early Slint and Naked Raygun with a touch of sub-Big Black vocals?

(Amphetamine Reptile, 89160-1)

01 Static
02 Mumper
03 Same
04 (untitled)
05 Downtime
06 Seam
07 Mel's

"Static" and "Downtime" recorded by Iain Burgess, and the rest by Steve Albini, this record further lays on the Raygun styling and is perhaps the most "accessible" Tar record. "Mel's" in particular is a standout, featuring terrific dynamics and the push/pull of guitarists John Mohr and Mark Zablocki closing out the record brilliantly.

1990 -
(Amphetamine Reptile, 89197-1/2)

01 Les Paul Worries
02 Cold
03 Glass Grief
04 Pick One
05 Black Track
06 Bad Box
07 Mercury Block
08 Gag Reflex
09 Thermos
10 Jurbo

Churning guitars and often-buried vocals mark this Iain Burgess-produced record. Perhaps the most "dense" of Tar's records, nevertheless it's a nice transitional record - transitioning from the sub-Raygun earlier works to the more driving, dynamic and unique Tar to come. I never used to rate this record, always thinking it paled to the later Tar, but having revisited this a LOT lately, I've come to love it. "Les Paul Worries" (video) is great, great - and is it about the worries of guitarmaker Les Paul, or worries about the guitar itself? Singer John Mohr says both (scroll down). And the start/stop guitars in "Thermos", where the (very slight) finger noises on the fretboard precede and follow each start/stop effect, gets me every time.

1991 - JACKSON
(Amphetamine Reptile, amrep 004)

01 Short Trades
02 Cross Offer
03 Walking The King
04 On A Transfer
05 Trauma
06 Dark Mark
07 Goethe
08 Tellerman
09 Land Luck
10 Viaduct Removal

Perhaps the best overall Tar record, this Steve Albini recording is the summation of the "classic" Tar sound. Thick guitars, pummeling bass, and John Mohr's unique vocal stylings, "Short Trades" kicks things off nicely and they don't let up until the record's over.

All the above in three RAR files, gotta grab 'em all as usual....

Part I / Part II / Part III



  1. apologies for the mislinked Part III. I've corrected it so please re-download Part III......

  2. I've just discovered this great band thanks to you. This blog is 100% good stuff.