In September 2000, Tabula Rasa emerged onto the Pittsburgh indie-rock circuit. The band practiced together for twelve days before they played their first show. A few years and many practice sessions later, Tabula Rasa makes its proper introduction with a strong debut full-length. The Role of Smith, produced by J. Robbins, made famous working with Jawbox, portrays a solid band in the makings. The band’s been categorized as math-rock, but in truth it makes a clean slate, a tabula rasa, for rock and punk music cross-sectioned into well-built instrumentals.
The instrumentals, sometimes compared to Fugazi, are energetic and charged with a fresh enthusiasm and creativity. The band goes from hyper and super-charged “Keith Song” to the mellower “Eating Contest.” The strength of the songs lies more in the mellower instrumentals, where the intensity of the players’ musicianship can be heard and their creativity comes to full flush.
Jeff Kopanic on drums and Chris Miskis on bass remain the most consistent throughout the entire album. It’s unfortunate Tabula Rasa felt a need to put lyrics to their instrumentals; their creative spirit unfortunately does not flow through in their words.
And Rob Spagiare, while strong on guitar, is weak on vocals. We get the average squawky vocals and mediocre angsty lyrics. In “More Words than Not,” Spagiare asks “When did us children grow to feel so out of touch?” which seems trite compared to the force and vigor of the guitar, drum and bass. The introduction to “How Old Are You” delivers chills, but Spagiare’s voice does not match the energy and quality of the music.
Unfortunately, the strength of Tabula Rasa makes its weaknesses that much more apparent. However, a debut album is often an introduction for the possibilities of a band, and the road ahead for Tabula Rasa, while perhaps not perfectly clean, is certainly worth walking.