Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Tonstartssbandht - An When Review (2009)

Sometimes your past catches up with you. Even though I knew nothing about Tonstartssbandht going into An When, the album's cover has always existed in the back of my mind. Like a maleficent leech festering in my brain ever since I first bore witness to it some undetermined time ago, the nameless individual staring directly off-camera in a dank basement, dead eyes fixated on something fearing it, has never left my subconscious. While the music contained within only mirrors that image's committed confusion, Tonstartssbandht effectively lures you in with a man caught in a trance, much like how you'll soon be too. Because of the impact the cover had on me, I had (wrongfully) assumed An When to be a more popular album than it actually is. In some twisted sense, that actually adds to the allure. Like a mystery that never got solved. To me, that's how I perceive Tonstartssbandht's An When. Red yarn furiously traced around nails, trying to find clues, only leading to countless dead ends. The music, defined by most as Lo-Fi Indie and Psychedelic Pop, only scratches the surface as to the alien sounds captured within. Sometimes a unique aesthetic will only take you so far. In An When's case, it epitomizes the entire album.

All this over-complication for what's mainly a goofy album made by two brothers from Florida. I mean hell, they cover, word for word, 'Little April Showers' from Disney's Bambi. Now sure, their version, maniacal, deranged, and thunderous, skews about as far away from Disney chip-tunes as one can imagine, but the playful innocence and silly fantasies are still there. However, this would be improperly judging 'Little April Showers' in a vacuum. In reality, 'Black Country,' a giant Noise Pop opus with seething guitars drenched in distant feedback, precedes the lovable little lullaby. That's the crux of understanding An When; you don't. At least Tonstartssbandht had the niceties to explain this to us going in, with the Q&A intro that tries to answer our looming questions but only leaves us with more confusion. From the onset, it's clear An When, lyrically or topically, is not meant to be taken seriously. Formidable songwriting, this is not. From 'Little April Showers' to '5FT7,' a song about being, well, 5'7" tall, to 'M'old Jæp,' which talks about riding around in a Jeep Grand Cherokee, An When is not an album for existentialist's. Besides, if the White brothers wanted it to be, they wouldn't have smothered their vocals in rubbish.

But man do those vocals pull these songs into a Pop stratosphere that's rarely achievable. On first listen, one prominent comparison will become clear; Animal Collective. In 2009, Merriweather Post Pavilion had just been released, and conjoining that album's Psychedelic Pop daydreams with the band's older, weirder, more experimental material led to a lot of Tonstartssbandht's ideas here. Like Animal Collective's earliest album, Spirit They're Gone Spirit They've Vanished, An When properly conjoins vocal paradigm shifts over eclectic sounds with rare moments of Pop grandeur. Thankfully, the short 36-minutes here allow for a proper distribution of vocal experiments and fully-structured song recordings. Expectedly so, the latter are your peaks. And depending on your tastes, a different favorite will arise. For me, that's 'Andy Summers,' a rumbling summer anthem that splits itself into thirds, offering listeners the clearest lyrics here apart from 'Little April Showers.' After an unsuspecting beat filling, the middling portion of 'Andy Summers' is a mouthwatering Indie romp around beautifully sung melodies whose catchiness knows no boundaries. While I wished that moment had lasted longer, the final segment doesn't slouch, drawing listeners in with a kaleidoscopic array of muffled instrumentation.

Elsewhere, you'll find definite favorites in 'Little April Showers' for those that can't escape Disney's reaching allure, 'Welsh Souper' for the Punk heads who like their high to be quick and effective, and 'Black Country' or 'Midnite Cobras' for those that like their Noise Pop with an extra dose of sludge. The latter, featuring clashing percussion, heavily-distorted guitars, and crunchy pubescent-sounding vocals, feels like some faraway campfire cult drowned out by amps. The first half resembles some disorderly kumbaya, while the second captures them hooting and hollering around an ominous fire. In fact, if I had to propose a setting for An When in totality, it would be a summer camp surrounded by nature. Odd for sure, the loud but compressed aesthetic gives off a sound that echoes through miles of trees, or vast calm waters, only to be picked up by some passing hitchhikers. The comparison's only vaguely similar, thanks to this aesthetic, but I'm also drawing parallels to Dan Deacon's Bromst. Certainly more polished, the campy appearance of Deacon's best album brushes upon An When's dirty features quite well. Plus, they both place a spotlight on childhood purity, sporting a carelessness that only a rug rat with no conception of societies confinement could muster.

However, all of this isn't to say An When's without faults. For one, the organization is rather poor, delivering all the best tracks within the first seven songs, with five still to go. It doesn't lead to an tedious finale, more so a different one that's less tangible. This is primarily because four of the last five are looping vocal experiments with a limited breadth of creativity. Only 'Walken With Jesus,' which is quite an admirable cover of a Spacemen 3 song, is a full-fledged track. Like 'Little April Showers,' it's fairly hinged towards the original, and in this case, that works adversely considering Spacemen 3's piece is psychedelic at heart, whereas 'Little April Showers' was not. Nothing much is added. It's merits are heightened, however, because 'M'old Jæp,' 'ORO,' and 'Imenope,' the song's circumferencing it, are less memorable. Nondescript trails of what-would-be's, these loops feel unfinished by nature, and therefore pale in comparison to the completed works. 'Softly Kidding' follows the same dynamics, but slowly eviscerates the eardrums, building upon itself incrementally, causing it to be quite an amicable climax and send-off. Disappointments of the second half aside, there's no denying the charm and undeniable imagination An When supports. Even though it's inspirations are palpable, Tonstartssbandht's debut is one of the strangest, most unorthodox albums I've ever heard.

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