Tara Jane O'Neil - Tara Jane O'Neil
- Released: 21 April 2017
- Label: Gnomonsong Records
On her ninth album, partly recorded at Wilco's Loft in Chicago, partly at her California home, experimental solo artist Tara Jane O'Neil brings her melodic instincts to the foreground. Also an accomplished visual artist, her musical work has been called post-folk, incorporating drone, improvisation and ambient soundscapes into her hushed and deliberate song writing.
Self-titling an album usually signifies a peeling back of a previous artistic mode to reveal the ‘real’ artist, or some other gesture toward authenticity. As this is the first time O’Neill has self-identified as a singer-songwriter, along with being an s/t, you’d be forgiven for assuming this album was to be an unveiling of some previously hidden more traditional musical identity. Along with the sunshiney cover and ‘Cali’ namechecked in the tracklisting, you might even expect some mellow but undemanding Laurel Canyon-esque folkcraft. There is a sunnier vibe compared to last two or three albums, that much is true. And there are more formally crafted songs, with less abstract passages than on last album Where Shine New Lights, which are more dependent on Tara Jane’s lilting guitar lines and her sighing melodies than on texture and atmosphere. She has arrived at this point through hard-fought experimentation across her previous eight albums, and the record has this in its DNA while still delivering the pleasures of a well-crafted song.
Maggie Nelson, author and friend of TJO, wrote in the press release for the album that each song here ‘contains multitudes’. And it’s true, each song here feels like its own daydream, vivid enough to lose yourself in. It’s introverted, yes, but reaching out to so many artistic practices at the same time. What could perhaps come across as cold or distant, with some of the stark images of her, especially earlier, songs, feels warm and life-affirming.
A glance at the single word song titles suggests a continuous theme of sorts, ‘Blow’, ‘Sand’, ‘Flutter’, ‘Laugh’, seemingly just casually named after the first impression they made. Of course, the apparent effortlessness is all part of her art. When she sings “It could be the end of the world” in ‘Great’ it sounds so laid back you can’t imagine protesting. There are a few other arresting images, the beginning of ‘Kelley’ has TJO sing, ‘as stars explode in my rib cage’ and in ‘Sand’, a recurring guitar part shimmers as Tara sings of “embers in the endless light.”
These are stand-alone songs, more so than in any recent O’Neill release, yet the album still should be heard as one, with the opening songs taking their time to unfurl compared to the more extroverted middle section (‘Laugh’, ‘Cali’, ‘Purple’). The final stretch then dials it back once more to focus on Tara’s voice and guitar with soulful plucked figures on ‘Pink’ and on relatively downcast closer ‘Metta’.
But ‘Blow’ is the highlight, instruments sounding as if played by a passing breeze and Tara’s lyrics tumbling from her breath… “Searching the ground right in front of me/ But was buried for so long…. Shifting all the time then you realise/ That this is all a dream/ And true.”