Tara Jane O’Neil and Nikaido Kazumi: Tara Jane O’Neil
Published: May 11, 2011
Tara Jane O’Neil and Nikaido Kazumi Tara Jane O’Neil K If it was still possible for a folk song to become a standard or traditional—among other things, copyright has killed that—Tara Jane O’Neil would be responsible for at least a few—“Howl” and “The Poisoned Mine,” the back-to-back songs on 2004’s perfect You Sound, Reflect, especially. And that’s just in terms of the straight-ahead, skeletal songwriting that makes something last and carry on through different hands. O’Neil, whose roots run way far back to early/mid-1990s Louisville bands Rodan and Retsin, has brought forth something even more. Much like her contemporary Jana Hunter (now of Lower Dens), O’Neil makes songs into spaces and sonic landscapes: music that moves just like a point you can trace with your finger but also envelops. In a weird way, O’Neil occupies a sonic place similar to that of Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous (who passed away early in 2010), albeit way more subtle and romantic/honeyed with her tensions and blues. Her songs secrete their own unique environment—like making a painting and creating the base-layer canvas in the process of painting. And, like Linkous, she can also go headfirst into weirdness and experimentation: her Music for a Meteor Shower collaboration with Ida’s Daniel Littleton, her delicate film scores, blown-out versions of substrate song-songs—O’Neil is equally as good at this kind of exploration. On her self-titled collaboration with like-minded Japanese songwriter Nikaido Kazumi, that exploration feels totally effortless, like opening a valve and catching what streams out. The recordings took place between 2008 and 2010 in two unscripted sessions supplied only with a smattering of percussion, stringed instruments, and empty rooms. It was recorded mostly in an old Victorian house, which becomes one of the record’s biggest elements, not just the soft and close echoes, but empty space that is never quite empty—like a canvas that doesn’t start blank but rather is alive in its own way. Some tracks here are more mushy and featureless than others, with fields of uneven voices and rattling/ringing this or that. On “Kaheeloud” and “Lullaby,” Kazumi’s voice, sharp and strangely pretty, mingles with O’Neil’s guitar and strikes a certain tone that’s a wistful/bucolic kind of psychedelia. On “Say Yah Yah” those voices build up steam and form into chant, situated in this big river of sounds, a ghostly rush of reverberation, a cash register (maybe), and a vague, unsettling something. In the end, it does indeed all very much feel like a place—not a facade or setting, but an actual local that can be banal, beautiful, eerie, or any number of things, depending on what time you happen to be there and, like most any music characterized as exploration, from what perspective you look at it.
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