Every copy of Black Tambourine‘s OneTwoThreeFour should come with a disclaimer, a big Surgeon General’s sticker alerting listeners to exactly what they’re getting into. “Warning: This is not a comeback album. It’s not even really a reunion album, either. Expecting something monumental may cause disappointment.” Consisting of four covers of classic Ramones songs, this ten-minute EP isn’t about a pioneering twee band reclaiming its rightful place at the top of the fuzz-pop dog pile. Hardly a victory lap for the band, the EP was made to honor a different legacy. These songs were recorded as part of the 20th birthday celebration of Chickfactor, a DIY fan zine founded in DC by the band’s lead vocalist Pam Berry along with editor/photographer Gail O’Hara. It’s important to note this, because approaching this release with any grandiose narratives could make you miss what a pleasant little gem these dual 7-inches are.
The two decades between Black Tambourine’s dissolution and the recording of OneTwoThreeFour have done little the change the band’s sonic palette. Each track still features warmly distorted lofi guitar almost, but not quite, drowning out Berry’s sing-song melodies. Unsurprisingly, the formula works, being just as pleasant and effecting today as it was in 1990—though really, critical darlings like the Vivian Girls and Best Coast could have told you that. Things kick off with an amped-up take on “I Want You Around.” Raucous guitar and frantic drumming transform the devotional ditty into propulsive rocker as loud as anything the New York brothers ever put out. Similarly, on “What’s Your Name” the band twists the relatively demure original with slow-burning feedback squeal and gorgeous vocal harmonies that recall contemporaries like the Jesus and Mary Chain.
The real stand out of the collection is “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.” Smoothed to almost lullaby-like contours by a slowed tempo and “ooh”-ing and “ahh”-ing of swooning backup vocals, the track showcases Black Tambourine’s incredible ability to craft a lush, full deam-pop atmosphere. An additional plus: By swapping Joey Ramone’s adolescent-boy sneer with Berry’s tender female vocals without changing the lyrics the song benefits from a little gender-based fun. It’s the type of trick the Magnetic Fields occasionally likes to pull, which seems fitting when you consider Stephin Merritt was a regular contributor to Chickfactor.
At first a series of Ramones covers may seem like an odd way to celebrate a publication known as one of the early promoters of indie-pop in the dial-up slow, pre-Pitchfork era. Considering the artists and aesthetics Chickfactor lionized—acts like Pavement, Cat Power, and Yo La Tengo—there are surely more logical acts to align with. However, upon hearing how masterfully Black Tambourine pull off these covers, it all makes sense. The sound these women helped codify with their music and their writing is inescapable today. By giving a nod to its own influences, Black Tambourine is highlighting Chickfactor‘s place in indie genealogy, as a connecting point between the early, male-dominated punk rock scene and the sounds of today.