Let me start by saying, if you have never heard any of Tel-Aviv’s instrumental power trio, Tatran –and their psychedelic blend of experimental jazz and post-rock – you probably should not start with their latest release, No Sides. First, check out their 2014 debut album, Shvat. There are enough euphoria-inducing tracks on this album to give you a proper introduction to the band. The reason I request this of you, reader, is because of the concept and nature of No Sides.
Those who are already familiar with Tatran might be aware of their fondness for on-stage improvisation. They display a bond and oneness of mind that many musicians only ever hope to find in band mates. With No Sides, they put that psychic connection on display. Tatran went on stage, with no material prepared in advance, and recorded a live jam session. Tatran have already proven their musicianship and ability to compose a song that keeps you wanting to listen with previous releases. On No Sides, the trio demonstrate their ability to feel the moment and be in the music, no matter where that journey may lead. So, how does it translate from a live setting to a recording?
The album opens with “The Climb”. With instruments slowly swelling in volume, guitarist Tamuz Dekel wastes no time in displaying his mastery of an effects board, using live loops to layer spacey guitar riffs with varied effects over top of one another. One might be inclined to make a comparison to some of Omar-Rodriguez Lopez’s solo work. Still building towards a climax, bassist Offir Benjaminov and drummer Dan Mayo add intensity and frequency to their playing; Dan Mayo shines especially, taking an opportunity during the final minute of the track to display his percussive capabilities. All of this plays to effectively build energy and anticipation for the songs to follow.
The next track up is “Heavy Moss”. The piece begins with a funky bass run that holds the beat for the majority of its run time. By the time the guitars and drums kick in, I am quickly reminded of the band Battles and their EP C . However, after listening to the album a couple of times through, I believe this is the weakest entry in the album. Not only is the song a bit repetitive, but the main variation in the song comes in the form of very avant garde, dissonant guitar effects (à la Animal Collective), which I did not find particularly enjoyable to listen to. This jam might have been better served if it were shorter.
Track three, the title track “No Sides,” is perhaps the most fun song on the album. A steady drum beat kicks off, followed by swelling guitars. By the time the bass line enters, I feel as though I’m listening to an interlude from Incubus’ early funk days. I suppose this song is a tad repetitive as well, but I’m intrigued enough to see the track through. Five and a half minutes in, I’m given a deep dose of nostalgia as the bass line reminds me of some of the soundtracks to the 8-bit video games I played growing up.
Changing the tone previously set in No Sides is the fourth track, “Eyes”. Stylistically a bit different from the rest of the album, it leans strongly on an electronic vibe akin to early Metronomy. The guitar, again layered with effects, has me wondering what combination of pedals Dekel is using. The bass is also deeply altered and provides an ominous overtone. This is an exceptionally emotional and intriguing piece of music, and easily the most impactful song on the album. “Eyes” closes out with the last bit of intensity the album has left, beginning the fifth and final track, “White Lies”, whose overall tone reminds me of their incredible cover of The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever”. Subdued percussion, high end bass notes, and dreamy guitar riffs serve well to wind down the session. Audience applause at the end of the song sees the album out and is the only indication that what we just listened to was a live improvisation.
After digesting No Sides for a few days, I feel at odds. It is psychedelic and funky, drawing influences from many different genres. The trio plays tight throughout the whole set, undoubtedly on the same page and wholly trusting each other; this makes it one of the most honest records I have listened to. However, its strength is also its downside. I want music that I actively seek to listen to, and, being that it is a 30 minute jam session, No Sides doesn’t quite garner as high of a replay value as a planned out, composed album. When listening to a new album, I hope for a new experience with each subsequent play through. You pretty much absorb No Sides in its entirety after the first play through. Don’t get me wrong, No Sides is a fun album performed by talented musicians. It is definitely worth seeking out, and will serve well as part of a rainy day playlist. Yet, Shvat and Soul Ghosts will stay in my musical rotation much longer than No Sides.
Notable Tracks: “No Sides”; “Eyes”
FFO: GoGo Penguin, Battles, Luo