Tarnation – Gentle Creatures / Paula Frazer – The Hand (7-inch)
Paula Frazer’s voice swoops like a barn swallow on the last day of fall, riding hot currents for the pleasure of swooping and dipping, and not altogether concerned with destination. Hers is a beautiful voice, pure and limber.
Gentle Creatures is the second offering from the San Francisco quartet, though six of the fifteen tracks — “Game of Broken Hearts”, “Big O Motel”, “Tell Me It’s Not So”, “Lonely Lights”, “Yellow Birds”, and “Do You Fancy Me” — are reprised from last year’s independently released I’ll Give You Something to Cry About. The only pity in that is that “The Ring”, a haunting, gloomy song about incest and love, didn’t make the jump.
Songs new and old proceed at the languid pace of a waltz. Lyrics are simple and clear but seem oddly subordinated to the instrument delivering them. That is, Frazer’s country phrasing is much like jazz, but no less effective for that. The effect is a trifle like an imaginary melding of Joni Mitchell with k.d. lang. Occasionally the voice of one of Frazer’s three bandmates will take center stage, with Frazer sailing happily in the background. Guitar work throughout has the simple, easy pace of the Timmins clan, as do intermittent drums.
Gentle Creatures is a one-off with 4AD, perhaps an odd choice — and perhaps not, what with the Cocteau Twins and Kendra Smith on the roster. It is slightly troubling that so many songs have been recycled, but they can’t have had much play before outside the Bay Area. The newer compositions are neither better nor worse, but seem to have less edge.
We will probably find out on Tarnation’s next outing just how good they might be. Perhaps this is it, a nice, clean and distinct kind of opening statement they will go about refining for the balance of their career. But they’re onto something special here, and should they choose to amble down that road further, the results could prove spectacular.
“The Hand” and “Two Wrongs Won’t Make Things Right” appear also on a Paula Frazer 7-inch (Sunday Driver, 2017 Lowerline, New Orleans, LA 70118), along with “Is She Lonesome Now?” These sound like four-track demos (voice, guitar, backing vocals), slower, simpler versions of the songs, aged by lo-fidelity. They are somehow transformed from sparkling art to spooky, cracked things on a Twilight Zone radio in this setting.