Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sand Pebbles: Dark Magic

Entering into this, the Sand Pebbles’ fifth album, you find yourself in familiar territory. Distinctive guitar tones circle beneath Andrew Tanner’s strong vocal, which kicks off about ten seconds in and is joined by Tor Larsen’s twenty-odd seconds later. The guitars gather over one another, delays and echoes bounce around for a bit before gradually converging into rippling melody. Spring Time (Who Hasn’t Lost Their Head?) is classic Sand Pebbles. Melding elements of ’70s psych with ’60s folk and pop, it acts as perfect pallet cleanser – once wrapped-up some six minutes later, there’s no question where you are. Second up, Because I Could continues on the same trajectory (it could almost play as the second, albeit more thumping, part of the opening number) but from here Dark Magic veers into some new and exciting territory.

The alternation between Tanner and Larsen on this release broadens the canvas upon which the band can draw. On single Occupied Europe (Take Me Across The Water) Larsen holds complex lyrical patterns singlehandedly and delivers the vocal track of the record. Third number Long Long Ago sees Larsen steer us through the first of a series of straight-up folk songs. His voice emerges from a largely backing role and commands the Sand Pebbles machine onto bold new ground. On first listen you’d almost swear they’d brought in a female vocalist, such is the sweetness of his voice.

Still, the rare and beautiful combination of Tanner and Larsen’s voices has come to define the Sand Pebbles’ sound, as the title track along with the brooding Another Way To Love reinforce. That and the inimitable guitar signatures and irregular rhythms, which are given room to breathe in the more instrumental closing couplet. These signposts guide the listener through an otherwise complex voyage and ease the transition from genre to genre.

Regardless of contributions from Galaxie 500’s Dean Wareham, Luna’s Britta Phillips, Spiritualized’s Will Carruthers, et al., which are for the most part difficult to pinpoint, this record signifies an alternation in flight-path for Sand Pebbles and at the same time grounds them as one of the most innovative and important acts Melbourne has produced in recent times. This is a band willing to explore and diversify to their strengths and possibly to the detriment of their more psych-leaning audience. It’s a bold record with hidden jewels aplenty, and no great surprise in that.

Samson McDougall

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