JUNE ALBUM OF THE MONTH – ‘TARRASKA’
Sometimes it has to be about the songs, not the marketing. We live in a time when bands or managers with the biggest Facebook groups can win accolades for bands – be it a best song here or a best album there – and where devoted fans can buy multiple copies of an album to give their beloved band a fleeting moment in the charts. And this is absolutely fine, I sometimes get drawn into this myself, but the danger is the noise machine can overheat, and the perception of success can become more important than the critical merit of good songs.
Whilst we all love the bands we love – and rightly want to support them and see them grow – the point of art is the art itself. Sometimes we have to make an effort to stand back from the tribalism of being all-in with a particular band – and applaud music that deserves to be recognised on its own terms, whoever it’s from. We need to embrace the freedom to be drawn to music that moves us, challenges us or intrigues us. It has to be about the song.
Hence for June, a month awash with new releases coming out, we go with relative unknowns Tarraska for Album of the Month – for the simple reason that lurking in the sea of likes, streams and shares, this band’s songs demand attention.
During lockdown on the Friday show, we supported all four of the singles that Tarraska released, a few may have been premieres. And on every occasion, it was down to the strength of the songs. An unknown name, I initially took a punt on the band’s first single because it prompted curiosity. Friday listeners reacted and, on merit, the song ended up having a 9-week run – all powered by listener requests.
And so the story continued with the next three singles. People who knew nothing about the band engaged with the songs because they liked or were intrigued by them. They called for the tunes to be played again. Many people didn’t even know what the band looked like, what the people’s names were – and some weren’t even sure how to spell the band’s name. In a world where we so easily get obsessed by the trimmings of image, or brand and the nauseous term ‘relatability’ – Tarraska’s story with us has been a humble but real example of letting the songs do all the talking. And on the eve of the debut album’s release, there is a sense that momentum is building. The single ‘Prose’ has been included on the Modern Rock Vol3 compilation based on requests – and Tarraska’s appearance at Wildfire Festival will probably mark the starting pistol for a festival run; another band broken by Dave Ritchie’s festival team, first to give a new band a chance.
For me, a debut album is a moment for a band to make a statement and Tarraska absolutely do this. For a new band, the album unashamedly has a classic rock feel, but this album stands tall above the sense of nostalgia one can sometimes feel from new bands playing classic era rock. The point here is there’s absolutely nothing wrong with new bands playing classic rock but you need do it really well if you want to pull it off. This was the impression I was left with after my first full listen of this Tarraska album. Technically, the playing is excellent, the writing and arrangement is strong and the band creates a wall of sound that just lifts you.
Some of this, I think, is the result of the band’s organic story. Joining forces in 2014, Lande and Parker started out as an acoustic duo and I have wondered whether the acoustic origins of the band helped give them a discerning ear for good song structure and arrangement. By the end of 2019, the guys had played more than 300 gigs in all manner of venues – pubs, clubs, restaurants, festivals and at private events. This amount of graft gives a band fluency and it plays out on this debut album. There’s no computer trickery here, or magic producers making songs sound better than they actually are; this is a performance album where the band knows exactly what it’s doing. There’s a direction and a purpose in these songs borne out from the chemistry and the years spent learning their trade. The time is right for this fine album. They are ready and what is unleashed is an intuitive tour de force.
I’m not going to write an exhaustive track by track here. As a debut album, I think you the listener need to have your own first experience of the music when you buy a copy. But a few signpost comments below to help convey my impression of what I heard, and I wrote these notes while enjoying a first listen.
The opener – ‘Sins Of The Other’ – commands immediate presence. It’s heavy, full-blooded and purposeful. Full of rasping and brooding riffs, it’s a well-arranged song with great sound. An album opener that makes a real statement – which is exactly how you want to open a debut album.
The four known singles – ‘Renegade’, ‘Trailblazer,’ ‘Prose’ and – most recently – ‘Getting Out Alive’ all appear and are evenly spread across the album. And the good news is they are not standout songs, like keystones, that hold the album up. Rather, the four singles serve as appetisers for a broader vista of musical expression that works really well as a cohesive whole.
Track 3 does exactly what it says on the tin. Called ‘Shifting Gears,’ it features good virtuoso guitar and again there is great space and depth to the music. One to listen to loud.
Mention the word ‘ballad’ today to some rockers and you often have to get the sedatives out. I’ve never understood this, given the ballad is core to the DNA of rock as a genre. We all like a banger, but there’s always been a lot more to rock than this – and on this album there are a pair of fantastic ballads. ‘Prose’ appears on Modern Rock Vol 3 – but the new one ‘White Flower’ is arguably even better. I won’t spoil it here, buy the album and decide for yourself!
Tracks 7 and 8 are album highpoints for me. ‘Say No Prayer’ is a rousing anthem that, no doubt, will become a festival favourite in the months and years ahead. This is followed by ‘Requiem’ – one of those rare moments where we go from ‘good song’ to music as ‘art.’ It’s a quite incredible song and defines its own parameters, as if it were the band’s own Bo Rhap. The extreme counterpoint between sombre, nakedly bare verses and big choruses is hugely powerful – and then the explosive guitar solo just takes things up another level. The sonic and expressive range is quite incredible. It’s one of those songs that surprises you – possibly affects you – and leaves you wondering what better song you’ve heard in recent months. Songs that make you think and redefine benchmarks are special songs.
Following a couple of singles, the album closes well with ‘Chimera’ – which does a good job in drawing together the strands that have characterised the styles, textures and moods on this fine debut.
Only two quibbles from me. I probably would have closed the album with ‘Requiem’ simply because it’s an almost impossible song to follow. I also think the album is possibly a track or two too long. In the CD age, the art of album length was lost but thinking with a vinyl mindset, I think 10 tracks would be been enough for this album. The songs are powerful and the variety also packs a punch. There’s a couple of songs towards the end that feel a bit like themes being revisited. For me, a little less could have been a lot more. Pack a punch with economy and leave people screaming for more.
Listening to this album reminded me of when I first listened to and then reviewed the Crows debut album ‘Murder and The Motive’ back in 2016, two years before it was re-released by Earache and given the second chance it needed to blossom. I remember first time round the band wasn’t getting much attention and the 2016 release went unnoticed by some rock media. I remember first listening to this album, being blown away by hearing something that was strong, different and the result of a fair few years’ hard graft by the band – the band knowing what they wanted to put down and the result being defined and purposeful. The music on this Tarraska album is very different, but the feeling was the same. It’s a debut album but it is also the result of years of craft, learning and defining a sound.
This is music that should not be passed-by or overlooked. We live an age of over-saturation of music releases and videos and where people (out of enthusiasm) often proclaim everything to be brilliant. The volume of music and the euphoria means it’s sometimes hard for some true gems to even get noticed. But this album demands time; it really demands a chance. And that’s why, for us, it’s Album of the Month.
There are bigger and more noisy bands out there. There are more popular brands out there. And Whilst Tarraska are relative unknowns, the music on this album is as good as anything released this year – and, on merit, it’s better than a lot of it. For the price of a dodgy pizza, give Tarraska’s album a chance for June. Try something new, support the underdog and prepare to be pleasantly surprised. Some bands spend a career evolving to write an album this good – debutants Tarraska strike gold with their first release.
The debut album is released on 17 June 2022
Pre-order bundles at: https://www.tarraska.com/shop-1
Album launch show at Canvas, Bournemouth on 16th June.
Jack Lande –Vocals and guitar
Ben Parker –Lead and other guitars
Allan Varnfield –Drums
Ollins Lande -Bas