Black Tambourine
Black Tambourine

Though they released little more than a couple EPs during their existence, Washington DC’s Black Tambourine managed to impress itself on enough of a following that their reputation as a prototype for the American arm of the shoegaze movement continues to this day. While a few songs eked out immediately following the group’s disbandment in 1991, 1999’s Complete Recordings probably has as much to do with the band’s impact on a new generation of bands—several of whom would end up on Black Tambourine member Mike Schulman’s Slumberland label—as anything they accomplished during their lifetime.

This new self-titled Black Tambourine compilation is essentially a reissue of that prior compendium, with four new songs that the band recorded piecemeal last year and a couple old demos tacked on for good measure. The timing probably couldn’t be better, with those aforementioned influenced bands, like the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, name-checking the underrated band in the press. Their hazy mix of British fuzz and American pop is as au current as ever, which seems almost ironic given that they never received the attention of their peers during their heyday.

Black Tambourine may very well have been ahead of the curve in America, but for as much as their distorted wall of sound owed something to My Bloody Valentine and their disjointed sense of melody to the Pastels, they also possessed a soulful verve and jangly countenance that was as American as Michael Stipe’s adam’s apple. This is best exemplified here on “Pack You Up,” one of the few songs released during the band’s lifetime, wherein they come off like a roughshod (and female-led) Connells, only buried in an avalanche of moody reverb. Elsewhere, though, “I Was Wrong” is more reminiscent of the Bats, a manic guitar strum pulled taught over crisp snares. “Drown” could have been born 25 years earlier, with Pam Berry’s croon channelling pure ’60s pop lament, were it not undercut with feedback. And while “Throw Aggi Off the Bridge,” perhaps the group’s most well-known cut, references the Pastels, it is more fully realized than anything Glasgow’s most infamous has ever done.

Of course, most of this is old hat to those familiar with Black Tambourine’s oeuvre. The real attraction here are the cuts the band “reunited” to make. These are surprisingly right in step with the rest of the set’s material. Berry’s voice has faded little, and the band hasn’t “matured” enough in the interim to lose any of their loose ends or frayed charm. Covers of Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat” and Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” seem second nature and fully absorbed into the Black Tambourine aesthetic, while the originals, “Lazy Heart” and “Tears of Joy,” similarly wear their intent on their sleeves. It cumulatively makes for a record that’s as much of the present as it is of the past, inherently placing Black Tambourine amongst kindred spirits of then and now.
Stephen Slaybaugh

MP3: “For Ex-Lovers Only”