When I wasn’t busy blasting my eardrums out with the Creation and 4AD catalogs Slumberland Records was the essential go-to label for all things noise-pop. Almost every artist paid tribute to My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Pale Saints in some form, but Black Tambourine had a bubblegum pop quality to their music that the Shogaze/C86 groups never produced. It also didn’t help that vocalist Pam Berry came off like the sexy, super-hip girl next door whose parents were cool enough to buy her a Fender Jazzmaster and some distortion pedals. So unattainable, yet innocent-sounding enough to approach after a few drinks, this is how I still picture her.
Unfortunately, Black Tambourine was hardly pictured this way outside of the small die-hard population of Slumberland Records collectors. Fellow artists like Lilys, Swirlies and Velocity Girl nabbed way more press and interest, beginning with modest seven-inch releases and quickly branching out onto other labels that gave them more reach. But something about Black Tambourine still sticks, feels urgent and youthful on this remastered anthology, and you can definitely hear their undeniable influence on current female-fronted buzz bands like Best Coast, Dum Dum Girls and Vivian Girls. And much like those artists Black Tambourine’s sixteen-track trip down memory lane is all about the grainy, dirty, reverberated guitars and cavernous female vocals that make songs like the lazy doo-wop of “Black Car“, “We Can’t Be Friends” and the pogo-friendly “Throw Aggi Off the Bridge” classics after all of these years.
March 30th sees the release of the Black Tambourine anthology. There are a couple of demos included in the set, but it’s the four brand new tracks (two of them covers) that sound extra sharp and worth your money. The cover of Suicide‘s “Dream Baby Dream” is a nod to 1980’s synth-pop while Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat” demonstrates their signature distorted guitar attack that really defines just about every song they’ve ever released. I’m also convinced that you could play “Lazy Heart” for anyone at Sub Pop and they’d think their new signees were holding out on them. That’s a compliment to both artists.
New listeners will make the obvious JAMC comparisons, and that’s okay, but Black Tambourine has always had a grip on their own style — more urgent and brash for sure. The low fidelity of the original versions adds to the mystery of Pam Berry’s vocals and DIY/4-track recordings that dominated the late-80s and early 90’s “College Rock” genre.
I wish I had a perspective on the quartet’s live show to add. They never quite made it outside of the recording studio or over to the West Coast. If they decide to make a short of run of it for old time’s sake I’ll probably be just as giddy and nervous when I buy Pam Berry a frosty beer. words/ s. mcdonald