Tarwater: Spider Smile
Morr Music

Some artists metamorphosize with each release—one never knows what new skin the next album from Pole, Andrew Pekler, or Björk will reveal, for example—whereas others habitually spin variations on a recurring theme. Tarwater (Bernd Jestram and Ronald Lippok) seems to more contentedly reside in the latter camp, with Spider Smile only subtly different from the 2005 Morr debut The Needle is Traveling. Like others lining its discography, the new album offers a well-crafted mix of instrumentals and vocal songs, with the group's deadpan vocal signature audible throughout, though welcome colour is provided by occasional counterpoint.

With its grandiose electronic themes and ponderous guitar melodies, the instrumental opener “Shirley Temple” harks back to Silur. Inspired by a joint bus trip through Scotland with members of Sun Ra's Arkestra, “Arkestra” weds slide guitar to a bucolic chant, while glockenspiel adds a glistening veneer to the rollicking romp “When Love Was the Law in Los Angeles .” The group does try to mix things up by expanding its range of analogue instrumentation. Agitated rhythms in “ Witch Park ” are dragged into a bluesy, swamp-water zone by the pluck of a kalimba and the wheeze of a harmonica, “A Marriage in Belmont ” perpetuates that bluesy feel but adds the exotic percussive touch of a talking drum, and an oboe melody adds a classy touch to the melancholy interlude “Roderick Usher.” To its credit, the duo rouses itself from its usual placidity for the comparatively aggressive “Easy Sermon,” as well as add gothic gloom with an echo-chamber-laden cover of the Virgin Prunes' “Sweet Home Under White Clouds.”

Does Spider Smile topple Silur from its position as Tarwater's strongest outing? Frankly, no. Neither is it, for those already in possession of a Tarwater recording or two, an essential release, though it does provide a perfectly legitimate starting point of entry for the listener new to the group.

May 2007