Tsar Czar - Morning Sun - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Tsar Czar - Morning Sun

by Daryl Worthington Rating:7.5 Release Date:2012-11-12

I'm a bit of a sucker for anything released on cassette tape. I think it's a combination of a fondness of its quirky audio quality and a vague nostalgia for the medium. It was this, more than anything else, that made me pick out Tsar Czar from the Soundblab review pile. There isn't much information on this band, other than they're from San Francisco and this would seem to be their debut release, but they're certainly one worth tracking down.

Right from the start, one of the most startling things about this album is the starkness of its production. The songs were recorded mostly in one take, using one microphone to capture the band playing live. This makes the whole thing sound deliciously intimate. From the opening guitar strums and reverb soaked-vocals of 'Cursive' it feels like you have sneaked into Tsar Czar's practice room.

Brain Wilson is described as using the studio as an instrument; Tsar Czar have deployed an inversion of this. The simplicity of the production is itself an instrument, creating new tones and textures from the simple arrangement of guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. On 'Pinwheel', the echoey vocals buried low in the mix sound like an eerie radio transmission has started singling along to Tsar Czar, giving lines such as "Come on and jump the fence" a new haunting poignancy. On 'Shiver', the cymbals on the drum kit sound like they are overloading the microphone, becoming fuzzy, blurred and buried in a hazy static.

In some ways, Tsar Czar's choice of medium to release this music furthers the effects made by its recording values. More than CDs and MP3s, tapes are a variable product. There is subtle variety between each duplication, they decay over time, and they are more susceptible to the idiosyncrasies of the system they are played through. These effects will expand upon the accidental tones and timbres found in the original recordings, the sense of a psychedelic music whose effects are created by the interaction of sound not only with the listener's ears, but with the room it was recorded in and the medium it is played through.

The album is split into two distinct parts. The first four songs are vocally-based tracks, around five to six minutes long, trippy pop music which in some ways comes across like early Animal Collective albums but with a more focused sound. The highlight of these and the album as a whole is 'Morning Sun'. It's built on a looping sombre bass line and gently rolling toms which ground the twangy, almost surf-rock sounding guitars.

The strained, high-pitched vocals give the impression of a field recording of the Flaming Lips at a campfire sing-a-long. The lose nature of recording and the way several singers voices are blurred together, none really given a 'lead' role, feels like an embodiment of the communal hippy values synonymous with San Francisco. The whole track has a wonderful stoned romanticism to it that is completely irresistible.

The second half is built on longer, meandering instrumentals, as the band stretch out to the cosmos. 'Mercury Bird' and 'Two' sound like The Velvet Underground if they were sun-drenched rather than heroin-addled, the droney chords and blasts of discordant guitar summoning images of summertime optimism rather than urban isolation. Final track 'Telemodel' is a sixteen-minute epic which slowly rises and falls. Yearning guitar flourishes mix with choppier, more frantic parts as the song wanders unhurriedly through subtle crescendos, the whole piece generating images of oceanic vastness.

This second part of the album isn't quite as engaging, or in my opinion quite as unique as the first half. However, the songs are still gorgeous in their ability to draw you into the band's ebb and flow. The basic components of this album are nothing particularly ground-breaking - trippy psyche music played with guitar, bass and drums. Its appeal lies in its ability to capture a time and a place.

When listening to the recordings, you can hear the natural echoes of the room. As instruments and voices become blurred and altered by their interactions with the room, the microphone and the listeners ears, the songs are given wonderful new sonic shapes.

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