Tasha-Yar Go in Search of, and Find, Space

Following last year’s live CD/DVD excursion The First Landing with a new self-released, self-titled studio full-length, North Carolinian collective Tasha-Yar emerge from the wooded hills they call home with a much more realized vision of their sound than they presented in 2010. The six-piece are firmly entrenched in the space rock genre, and the eight tracks on Tasha-Yar make the most of analog synth in the classic ‘70s tradition (though modernly produced), balancing the occasional heavy rock groove against all manner of underlying swirls and flourishes. Like much of its sonic ilk, Tasha-Yar is headphone-ready in terms of revealing its subtleties best with direct contact, but even in the car, the band get their point across. They like Hawkwind. They like Ash Ra Tempel. They enjoy the occasional cosmic excursion. Even better than Tasha-Yar are at making those points, however, their ability to balance ambient soundscaping with driving psych puts them in a different class entirely when it comes to the new league of interstellar seekers.

Although they’re immediately notable for their connection to über-hip North Carolina outfit U.S. Christmas, Tasha-Yar veer more directly into echoplexed churning and have less of a focus on outright tonal thickness. The double-guitars of Chad Davis and Ben Teeter take the lead on a couple of the tracks – opener “Twisted Sage,” the shorter “Flight of the Scanners” and later into “Empty Hand,” but more than that, they’re merely participants in a bigger happening. Both Teeter and Davis also contribute synth, and Tom Devlin III handles nothing but, so with the potential for half the band to be tripping out on knob-twiddling at any given moment alongside bassist John Presnell, drummer Tim Greene and vocalist Joe Sample, it’s safe to say Tasha-Yar give considerable emphasis to the lush aspects of their sound. Indeed, as much as the periodic “heavy part” acts as an offsetting moment of excitement, many of Tasha-Yar’s highlights come in the form of the quiet interplay between the synth and guitar, as with the beginning of opener “Twisted Sage,” which takes the first four of its total eight minutes to affect a slow build around shifting frequencies in and out of the aural spectrum.

“Twisted Sage” also sets the tone for the trade between loud and quiet volumes, which Tasha-Yar engage across the next seven cuts. Sample’s voice has an Al Cisneros-style cadence on the later “Empty Hand” and the closer, “Judgment Hour,” but takes the melody in a different, less referential direction on second track “I. White Squirrel,” which is part one of the three-part “Wasted Light Years” progression. “I. White Squirrel” leads more smoothly into “II. Formation of Being,” than does that song into the more active “III. Flight of the Scanners,” but unless you’re sitting and watching the times change over, you’re likely to just sit and go with it. “II. Formation of Being” might be the low point of Tasha-Yar musically, as the repetition doesn’t quite capture the same hypnotic aspect as other points of the album, but after three minutes in, when the guitars pick up for a solo and the instrumental section that ends the track, it’s satisfying nonetheless. As much as Tasha-Yar are linking themselves stylistically to the traditions of space rock, these songs don’t feel like they’re working with any kind of formula. “III. Flight of the Scanners” feels born out of a fuzzy psychedelic jam (perhaps with Teeter handling lead vocals; hard to know who’s doing what), but “Acorn Falls” is two minutes of pastoral guitar and synth interplay that’s just this side of too rich to be an interlude, containing some of Tasha-Yar’s most effective melody.

The whole package comes together, though, on “Empty Hand,” which is Tasha-Yar’s highest achievement to date. Presnell’s bass begins with subtle rumble to set an Om-type atmosphere (complemented soon by Sample’s previously-noted vocals, backed by Teeter) with lightly-strummed guitars and flowing synth. Greene’s drums never feel quite like they’re taking over, but the double-snare hits in the opening passage of “Empty Hand” do well to keep the song moving into its first chorus of “I’m not gonna treat you well/The empty hand giveth and it taketh away,” which is the most memorable vocal line of the whole album. Aside from its relative adherence to structure, though, it’s the completeness of atmosphere that sets “Empty Hand” apart from its peers, and the smoothness of the transition into the heavier stretch of the song after five minutes in. Everything feels very natural, nothing feels forced, and although it’s self-indulgent (it is space rock, after all), it doesn’t come off as pretentious. The closing movement feels like an appropriate payoff for what’s come before it, and when the 1:40 guitar trip “Sunrise” comes on, it feels less like an intro for closer “Judgement Hour” (sic) than an outro for “Empty Hand.” Hey, it’s a big difference.

The closer is something of a surprise in the bluesy progression and strummed guitars, but more so in the closing moments vocally, where a Nick Cave kind of warble possesses Sample and gives Tasha-Yar a whole new aspect to their heaviness. After The First Landing, I thought the band still had some growing to do, and with Tasha-Yar, it seems obvious to me that process has begun. They’ve crafted an engaging batch of songs, and though the production feels at times like the songs could be louder or have more of a dynamic range, with all the layers at work, that they’re mixed as well as they are is praiseworthy on its own, never mind in concert with the material itself. Given how broadly they seem to approach songwriting, it should be interesting to hear how Tasha-Yar deals with structure in the future, but paramount to that, they make what they have work and make it all work together. Fans of Nasoni Records, freakouts and the musically lysergic should take note.

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