Aside from needing a bit more variety in the key and chord progressions, Black Taj make the most of the limitations they set for themselves. By the second song in to Beyonder, the band’s great second album, and you know what you’re in for. Yet the album is not defined by monotony, and in fact the blues-based tunes seem to be frameworks for larger explorations. The problem is that those explorations too often do not come.
Black Taj includes Dave Brylawski on guitars and Steve Popson on bass, both of whom are also members of Polvo, an iconic band that mixed drone and psych into a more or less indie-rock construct. It’s Brylawski’s angular guitar work that extends the songs’ possibilities. Opener “Move Me,” for example, has a compelling opening riff before it kicks into a ’70s boogie that serves as the default position for most of the eight tracks. Likewise, the funk riffs that set up “Fresh Air Traverse” run side by side with vocals that evoke that same structure. Flashes of higher aims appear with gusto on the prog-ish expanse of “Damascus” and the distortion/power-chord might of “Superwash” and “LA Shift.” Closer “Little Child/Idyll Hill” is a kind of mini- epic that would have won some Bic-flicking on Midnight Special in 1974.
Even if this powerful record is limited by retro structures, it’s clear that Black Taj is overflowing with ideas. But Beyonder could have been better had the
band members allowed themselves to get real gone when the moment called for it.