Most times I make a cup of tea, I wish I were a sampler. That short-echoing liquid “poc” as the stainless-steel kettle bumps the sink wall and the water within shivers is one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard. But imagine instead oxidized scissor blades scraping against each other, the squeals of coneys carried on gusts of wind, the pitch-shifted grind of tectonic plates, and you’ll have some approximation of the sound of Heavy Metals — literalizing “rock” and “metal,” poisoner not of youth but of the body, culturally post-industrial.
Tar Feather’s gift is to deliver these dirty sounds — and I mean sonic dirtiness, not what’s usually meant by “dirty” music; get your mind out of the gutter and your ears there instead — not through a lo-fi haze, but against a clean and precise background that gives their muddiness all the more splatter. Not so much 100% Silk as 100% Sackcloth.
It’s been a fruitful year for house revival, with acts like Octo Octa, Fort Romeau, and Orson Wells treating us to a hyper-melancholized and de-diva’d version of the classic 80s/90s sound. Yet there are some outsiders — Sharon Needles to classic house’s RuPaul — tinkering with themselves out there on the edges. Where Xosar blesses us with chilly yet awkward-edged seapunk house, Tar Feather dig down, unearthing what Dummy has titled, with some aptness (for those who don’t mind microgenre-coining), “swamp house.” Beats underpin perhaps half of Heavy Metals, while elsewhere their absence tantalizes as they fail to coalesce, the metal detector sifting, sifting windswept furrows; vocal fragments grime up UK garage, while the elements simultaneously strip it to the bone.
It’s that feeling you get when the spade scrapes metal, setting the edge of the teeth, but that metal is a priceless Bronze Age artefact; indeed, a more appropriate metaphor would be the unexpected tumbling and clanking of said artefact in the combine harvester’s blades, because here we’re distinctively machinic as well as organic. It’s as if Herbert’s Around The House had been made in a doubtful tool shed, the “man cave” of an out-of-work archaeologist making ends meet by moonlighting in thanatotourism.
The cover art, an elk skeleton looming in an autumnal museum lit by “a certain slant of light,” feels like a clue of some kind, a fractal piece of a larger atomy, reminiscent for this reviewer of a resonating childhood image from Michael Rosen and with the same sense of absolutely present absence: dinosaur bones rising from the snow in a bombed-out museum in the ruins of WWII Warsaw, the witnessing soldier sucking a stone to stave off thirst.
If we could unearth the ruins of steampunk from “before it was cool” — not to say, from when it was cool, but rather, from when it was half-formed, misshapen, Hephaestean — we might reveal a perfectly-preserved yet paradoxically rusty compass-point of reference, digging under a dirty fingernail for gold.