The members of Tarantel have always existed in a murky netherworld of experimental rock, their steady atmospheric guitar pacing endlessly toward unforeseen territory. A defiantly glacial-paced, obstinately minimal singles collection, Ephermera, expanded their profile immensely in 2002, compiling five epic-length tunes that relished open space. Their previous full-length, 2001’s The Order of Things, indicated a more restless wanderlust, this time not just for frequenting old worn paths but also forging new ones. It was a heavy collaborative effort with orchestral and classical leanings that even threw vocals into their solid instrumental foundation. Through numerous singles, EPs, and albums, Tarentel has pursued largely that formula. But lurking in their spartan restraint hides a slowly germinating frenzy begging to unfurl.
And unfurl it does on We Move Through Weather, the third long-player from the San Francisco-based band. Forgoing their slow, steady expansion along the guitar-based branch of experimental rock, the album instead jumps completely off the genealogical tree. With quotidian instrumentation and song structures absent, it begs to be placed alongside other unclassifiable albums such as Faust’s The Faust Tapes or This Heat’s Made Available. Although their patience for slow development and absurd track lengths remains, an unfettered libertinism has overtaken this album.
Line-up changes have much to do with their new approach. They’ve pared down to a trio by shedding longtime contributors Jonathan Hughes, Trevor Montgomery, Jeffrey Rosenberg and Kenseth Thibideaug. Drummer Jim Redd, formerly of label mates Sonna, is a welcome addition; his tribal-like, tom-heavy pounding evolves through shifting patterns that are worlds away from the lethargic slowcore of prior excursions. The two remaining core members, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and Danny Grody, busy themselves with new toys (samplers, harmonium, laptops, tape decks) leaving their trademark guitars glaringly absent from this outing. Also on hand are musicians Steve Dye and Tony Cross, bringing new instruments — the obscure (gankogui, waterphone, hydrophone) and the homemade (flubaphone, double ski horn, clariphone).
The changes are startling for longtime Tarentel followers, although some brief moments have hinted at this wicked schism. Tie together the sedated cut-and-paste on 2003’s Latency EP and the noisier flourishes on recent compilation track “Bell Jar” and you get a preview of their willingness to color with an expanded sonic palette. It sounds as if they’ve emerged from a lengthy depression, being pondering and mopey all the time, and started experimenting with lots of drugs — for musicians, a career move that should never be underestimated.
The near-seventeen-minute “Get Away From Me You Clouds of Doom” expands like a knotty, contorted rope being yanked through taut rubber, creating brief intervals of chaotic sound — stutters, echoes and feedback — that fizzle into a slight rumble for the last five or so minutes. More similar to previous work is “Bump Past, Cut up through Windows”; its economical piano chords follow a repetitive tom pattern and swelling violin. It’s the only track whose sound sources are all identifiable, and it’s also one of the shortest, wrapping up in four minutes. “A Cloud is No Bigger Than a Man’s Hand” moves at a galloping pace, bringing out guitars for the first time and fuzzy wind instruments. These songs evoke numerous stringy comparisons befitting their expanded time frame. Like sitting in an open field and watching weather formations build-up and disperse, the tension comes from never knowing when or what an exploding storm might bring.
But in all, the accumulation of emotion this time around isn’t so drawn-out. This incarnation of Tarentel lets the songs grow wings early on, shed them shortly thereafter, and then experience random and brief mutations. Whereas percussion was previously a placeholder, it is now a point of focus. In the longer pieces, Redd’s intricate and nimble drumming acts as an anchor, leaving the others to pursue more outlandish territory with their sound manipulation. This is the mark of a band less concerned with genre conventions than with exploring moods, impulses and improvisation. Often when a familiar name overthrows its sound, the results can be disastrous or perplexing, but We Move through Weather is such an effecting piece of propaganda that old converts will renew their faith and gaze happily in rapture at a new idol.