It’s a rare privilege to review a release on vinyl, so it was a great treat too return from the post office, having exchanged the red and white card for the parcel they had been unable to deliver, with a large square mailer. Getting it home and hastily slicing through the tape, I was immediately impressed by the contents, Tarpits And Canyonlands by Bombadil. It felt hefty and substantial in my hands, but when I tore open the neatly perforated lose plastic wrapper, impressed turned to absolutely awe struck as I started to explore the contents. This is one of the most impressively packaged records that’s ever been my pleasure to handle, but joy of joys was confirmed when the needle hit the groove and the music started, proving every bit the match and more for the beautiful sleeve that contained it.
Bombadil may easily have passed you by. Their first album, A Buzz, A Buzz, was released back in 2008 and some time there or thereabouts a copy made its way home with me. At the time I liked it a lot and am just rediscovering why. As there never seemed to be any sort of follow up, never mind live shows, it eventually became overlooked sat on my CD shelves. It transpires that Tarpits And Canyonlands was that follow up and was originally released in 2009. But just as the record came out, the band’s driving force, Daniel Michalak, was diagnosed with neural tension. It’s a comparatively rare and debilitating condition that left him unable to play an instrument, much less tour to promote the record.
The band were effectively put on hold while Daniel sought treatment, which proved far from straightforward. He eventually recovered enough to make another two records, but neither was properly released in the UK. Daniel’s condition made supporting the band extremely hard work and they looked on the brink of collapse. Thankfully Daniel seems to have finally healed and Bombadil have once more become a serious touring unit. Naturally enough they have also returned to the album that critics were originally lining up to call the band’s breakthrough recording.
Given the circumstances, it’s probably unsurprising that they’ve chosen to lavish a little extra love onto this re-issue. The LP version is mastered from the original analogue tapes and pressed onto two luridly coloured and marbled slabs of 180gm vinyl that play at 45rpm. Each is housed in a leaf of a beautifully illustrated sleeve that boasts double fold out and in an inner bag, the latter being decorated on each face with a portrait of the four band members. The whole thing is elevated yet further as the central section of the sleeve has it’s own pocket, sealed with a string tie that contains a lyric sheet and 14 art prints representing some aspects of the 14 songs (there is also one brief instrumental interlude on the album, making the total track count 15).
In truth telling you about the packaging is the easy part here as trying to describe the music, other than to say it is complex, multi-textured, wildly inventive and hugely enjoyable is more difficult. I struggle to find anything much to compare it with, and the search for a sound-a-like is frankly rather pointless. There’s spine tingling delight in the ever changing musical focus and the instrumentation that pulls and twists the songs, sometimes caressing sometimes cutting across the melodies. This is music of curiosity – what ifs? The words too are often densely poetic, abstract, dreamy vignettes that tease with ideas. You can’t help but say quirky, yet it’s not just an exercise in clever intellect, there is real passion etched into these grooves.
The opener, I Am, offers the first oblique stroke, plucking a line from the song Pyramid that appears later at the end of side three of the double disc set. “I am lost in the sand building you a pyramid,” is repeated to a layer vocal crescendo in some sort of uroboros like incantation. Sad Birthday is all angular rhythms and jarring piano lines, while Honeymoon works it’s somewhat nightmarish visions and black magic through two sections that build towards another fairly epic climax. Reasons is by contrast a gentle acoustic lilt. We are only at the end of side one, but you get the picture and it of course gets no less undulating as we flip the disc over.
Cold Runway starts in a tangle of bottle-necked guitar like an out-take form Piper At The Gates Of Dawn and is all crashing and slashing guitar and piano, over a tune that offers balm amidst the dramatic, dynamic swings. Otto The Bear is equally as delightful, unhinged as anything that emerged from the psychedelic cauldron of 1967. After the brief and strange Prologue, So Many Ways To Die is also equally disorienting, although somehow hangs onto its message imploring a lighter, brighter look at life.
On to disc two and Marriage is a lovely piano ballad, although there is a strange clicking and creaking that almost sounds like something mechanism being wound. Laurita is sung in Spanish and reflects Bryan Rahija’s Bolivian roots and it in turn gives way to the Latin tinged waltz of Kuala Lumpur, that starts out limpid and ends in tropical thunder. Side three ends with the aforementioned Pyramid, building the fragment of the opener into compelling, devious drama.
Side four opens with 25 Daniels, which is all swooning sax and pounding drums, underpinning a jaunty tune, which sweetens a tale of war and death. There’s a menace too in a reminiscence that gets darker as it progresses through Matthew. Finally the folksy lilt of Kate And Kelsey is a bittersweet take on love’s joy and pain.
In 45 minutes it packs a hell of a lot in, but does so with an assurance and a sense of itself that is at once thrilling, profound and enchanting. Dressed to impress and ambitious perhaps, but also accomplished and in its own way adorable, this incarnation of Tarpits And Canyonlands is what record player are made for.
Review by: Simon Holland
The new Double LP ‘Tarpits and Canyonlands’ is out now.