wears the trousers magazine

tara jane o’neil: a ways away (2009)
May 26, 2009, 11:14 am
Filed under: album, mp3, review | Tags: , , , ,


Tara Jane O’Neil
A Ways Away ••••
K Records

“Don’t fuck it up. Don’t put your clouds and shit all over it,” said Tara Jane O’Neil, quoting her own thoughts in our recent interview. She was worried that she might turn her first “pop record” back into her more traditional “cloud music”, as friends have labelled it. Newcomers to O’Neil might think cloud music is a perfect metaphor for her fifth solo album, A Ways Away; it drifts and flows, puffing out into dreamy shapes, driven urgently at times before shooting upwards and threatening to burst. But as she acknowledged herself: “The new album is very song-y.” Indeed, this is perhaps the tightest we’ve ever seen O’Neil; only two tracks break five minutes in an all-too-fleeting album.

Taking us on a journey through the backwoods and grassy plains of some imaginary rustic world, O’Neil conjures up a musical backdrop that’s neither cold nor too cerebral. Her electric guitar shimmers and glides, sometimes reminiscent of Neil Young’s playing on Jim Jarmusch’s wonderful ‘Western, Deadman’. Nowhere is that link stronger than on the opening echoing riffs of ‘Dig In’ and on the closing, reverberating instrumental ‘The Drowning Electric’. 

At other times, when O’Neil’s fragile, hushed vocal whispers to us, the haunting atmosphere puts you amongst the Douglas Firs of ‘Twin Peaks’. “Dig in,” she sings, “let the water flow away from you…” There is so much space in A Ways Away that when each song ends it feels like waking from a dream. There are moments, though, when O’Neil provides a much more direct address. On ‘Drowning’ and ‘Howl’, her voice is suddenly strong and clear. She questions and probes; seemingly awakened. 

O’Neil is famous for taking a collaborative approach to creating her music and the long list of credits for A Ways Away shows her recording style this time round was no different, yet the support never cast too long a shadow. There’s the odd shake of a tambourine, the drone of a violin, the reassuring heartbeat of a drum, and vocal harmonies, but nothing that doesn’t sound perfectly in place. With her old label Touch & Go living up to its name and all but biting the dust, we can be thankful K Records have given O’Neil a new home. And, it seems, the chance for a whole new direction. This is enchanting, surprising, wistful melody making from a guitarist who slides achingly from one note to the next. With a voice that’s coming sharply into focus, you get the feeling O’Neil has a secret we should all be trying to learn.

James M Johnston
UK release date: 21/07/09; www.myspace.com/tjoistarajaneoneil


FREE MP3: Tara Jane O’Neil, ‘Drowning’



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