Tara Jane O’Neil A Ways Away

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Styles: experimental pop
Others: Phil Elverum, Julie Doiron, Bon Iver, Loren Connors

One problem with music classification is that it breeds division, which in turn breeds picky consumers. “I like rock but not country,” says one. “I only like underground hip-hop,” says another. And still others claim some subtle derivation on the pop canon as pure, authentic, and ultimately better than any other subtle derivations. It’s like fighting over whether there’s a difference between grindcore and death metal: there is, but who cares? When it comes down to popular musics, they don't last because of genre; they often last because of the effects they had on the listener — a spiritual quality more than a sonic one. More often than not, the pop music that lasts could be classified as soul music.

Tara Jane O’Neil’s A Ways Away is soul music. It’s not so much about how it sounds, but how it feels. Less the relation of O’Neil’s ringing, meandering guitars to Loren Connors’, and more the way she uses the sounds to build a hazy, murky atmosphere that draws us into it — the way she plots the course of thought and emotion as they develop. Indeed, there’s an extemporaneous feeling to A Ways Away that persists amid its clear recording quality and allows O’Neil to sing quietly as though she’s unsure of herself, while still underscoring a natural sort of confidence — she doesn’t have to sing loudly.

And in this age of sparse, saddened folkies turning out album-of-the-year-worthy efforts (Bon Iver in 2007, then Mount Eerie with Julie Doiron last year), it’s plenty tempting to consider this a following effort, trading in the same sort of solitary vulnerability and private aesthetic that those other artists also employed. But lest we forget, one need not reinvent the wheel to build a brand new car. O’Neil’s own chilly Northern recording is one decidedly more spectral than Bon Iver’s woodsy lonesome sound or Mount Eerie’s old-house creaks and moans. O’Neil is playing to the mists of rain floating from the earth as we might hope our souls would one day. And in so doing, she would, indeed, seem to be singing for souls: from hers, to ours.

1. Dig In
2. In Tall Grass
3. Drowning
4. A New Binding
5. Howl
6. Pearl Into Sand
7. Beast, Go Along
8. A Vertiginous One
9. Biwa
10. The Drowning Electric

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