In 1992, the members of one of those bands whose talent and influence would only be assessed with time decided to go their separate ways. Black Tambourine left behind a small token of their time together — a very small token. Their Complete Recordings, at a brisk nine songs, filled but a 10-inch record. This self-titled compilation serves both to re-emphasize the value of those tracks, as well as provide a few demos, newly recorded originals and covers. Since the two 7-inches and Complete Recordings, all released between 1989 and 1992, are damn near impossible to find, Black Tambourine is both a labor of preservation and celebration.
Black Tambourine mixed shoegazing guitar, emo-esque passion (without emo-esque self-pity) and delicious pop sense for melodic tension. They could be abrasive and achingly fragile, often in the same song. One listen to “Black Car” or “for Ex-Lover’s Only” is to inspire a hundred more listens. It is also appropriate that one of the new covers is Love’s “Can’t Explain.” Like that band, the layers to be uncovered with each listen are joyous to discover.
Pam Berry’s vocals, both smoky and jaded, are often buried in the mix, but her weary tone perfectly complements the swirling music. Guitarist Mike Schulman (and current Slumberland head) leads the band effortless into the epic. They would have to be epic, given that they are probably the only band in history to have covered both Buddy Holly and Suicide.
To be honest, the demos and covers don’t really add to the power of the nine core songs. “Drown,” “Pack You Up” and the instrumental “Pam’s Tan” form the secret template for many a 1990’s alt-rock band. Like the Velvets, Black Tambourine will only gather its disciples slowly, by word of mouth, via reissues like this. Black Tambourine is essential listening for its own sake, but it is also a history lesson for lovers to pure pop and bands that had the same sonic ideas — after Black Tambourine.