Throughout August, Crate-Digging will be focusing on recordings that have been given a cassette release
(Black Cheeks, 2009)
There are bands that, when I first hear them, pique my interest to such a degree that I have to pore over their history and hunt down the farthest reaches of their catalog.The White brothers, Andy and Edwin, who are the brainchildren behind Tonstartssbandht, have me hooked. I’m a huge fan of their debut album An When, and they’re still cranking out quality material with the release of this year’s Hymn cassette and Now I Am Become album. Sounds like my work’s not yet done. The combination of their strange, obscure name and their twisted take on psychedelic pop music is like catnip to me. (Sounds kind of like my unholy fascination with the equally-worth-discovering Black Moth Super Rainbow.) But Parson Sounds is a little different than the usual Tonstartssbandht fodder (as if anything the band releases falls under the “usual” category) in that it’s a collection of four covers of a Swedish psych outfit from the late 1960s called, appropriately, Parson Sound. (They changed their name a couple times, to International Harvester, then Harvester, around that time, but that’s neither here nor there for our purposes.)
This isn’t the first time that the Whites have latched on to a left-field psych band – they actually play together as High Rise II, a cover band that exclusively, and probably obviously, hews to the catalog of Japanese band High Rise. So Andy’s and Edwin’s ability to tackle others’ material and make it their own is more self-evident than you might immediately think. (Although that’s not my call to make – I’ve never heard Parson Sound … or High Rise for that matter. Add that to the list of things to remedy.) That they succeed in sounding so remarkably like Tonstartssbandht speaks to either this ability or the fact that they’re good at choosing whom to emulate. Either way, Parson Sounds is a pretty darn good cassette.
Sides A and B contain two songs each, a couple extended jams and a couple of shorter pieces. The lengthier songs breathe and grow instead of transition in any sort of verses or choruses, and anyone who has experienced Tonstartssbandht in any way knows that progressions are organic, providing real evidence that the band really is in continuous dialogue with their forebears. They draw inspiration, chew it up, and churn it back out with their own twist, and often their singular vision merely hints at what’s come before, even as it lurks in the edges and cracks in their sound. “It’s Only Love” begins with a trademark White (or is that a Parson Sound?) a capella harmony, a smooth and creamy delivery with the faintest hint of microphone crackle. (Am I describing a song or a candy bar?) The songs slows to a stop, then one of the brothers mimics a drum intro with “Debris Slide”-esque “ba ba ba-buh-da” vocal inflections, and the guitars, bass, and drums, all pushing meager recording equipment to its limit, fuzzily bursting amp speakers as the band careens for a while before collapsing in a heap of distortion. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s essentially the tone of the tape. (Fortunately there aren’t any crazy flute solos overtop the ruckus. We’d probably be approaching Ming Tea territory then.)
“Tio Minuter” is a longer jam that gallops krautrock-ily through most of side B, and “Beautiful Crystal” is a two-minute psychedelic/garage cloudburst that closes the album. “Sov Gott Rose Marie” is the only quiet tune here, featuring chanted vocals in haunted harmony, like Gregorians with some minimal, unadorned electric guitar. Think “Pie Jesu Domine … thwap! Sov Gott Rose Marie … thwap!” Yeah kind of like that. But freakier, folkier, New Weird America-ier, although Swedish and from the 1960s.
You know what I think? I think that Tonstartssbandht are going to be huge. They’re so unique – experimental yet firmly rooted in pop aesthetic, able to exceed limitations and somehow stick to a crowd-pleasing idiom. They shift genres with ease, and the brothers’ spirit of long-distance collaboration (one lives in Montreal, the other in New York, although they’re originally from Orlando) somehow transcends their separation, pushing them to create newer, stranger, and more impressive compositions. Do what I did – snatch up their discography. You won’t regret it.
RIYL: Parson Sound, Women, Chad VanGaalen