Tar bowed out around the time of my freshman year of college, and left behind a musical legacy that no one deemed worthy of preservation. Seventeen years away from their output, this all sounds strange, but everyone works in their own way, and history has written much of what Tar tried to accomplish out of the pantheon of rock music. For a good seven years or so – good ones, too (’88 through ’95) – it was hardly uncommon to see guys in Tar t-shirts grinding rails outside high schools and college campuses, at least where I grew up.
The band, skaters themselves who’d grown out of a suburban Chicago punk outfit called Blatant Dissent, worked in the medium of architecturally loud songs, deceptively simple indictments with repetitive, cryptic lyrics, and chords, and fine-tuned precision – no solos – arranged to fortify and abrade the central riffs they conjured up with a stoic, architectural counterpoint. Seeing them play live could easily confuse those who came for punk, or David Yow’s nutsack, and didn’t get how their treatment of the three-chord shuffle figured in to a veritable micro-evolution of rock music. That segment of the populace who DID get it, all knew their own version of the secret between those chords, and celebrated all the idiosyncracies of this band: short hair; guitars and basses made from airplane aluminum, with incredible, Veleno-style sustain; a dry sense of humor, with the occasional foray into three-man slingshot territory (witness the cover of this posthumous release, timed to match the band’s first reunion in all these years, as they wing a “snifter” of Nutella into the black expanse of the Hoover Dam at night); their choreographed dance moves, somewhere between an ollie and a boot party. They had more than a few ways to dress up their style of rock, but if you weren’t then, you probably aren’t now, so to speak. Not a lot of their live material was big on the YouTube wayback machine anyway, and some of the records are a little too clinical for younger listeners to understand. Like, Tar was the only band I can think of that cut a substantial set of releases for both Amphetamine Reptile and Touch & Go, but really, what does that all mean now? All that it reminds me of is that we have no real manufacturing base in this country anymore, and therefore it’s less likely that the ka-CHUNK of light-to-moderate industry isn’t informing the ambient lifesounds of the young anymore, that’s what. Many dead end jobs are gone, replaced with nothing.
Tar’s disappearance from the world of early ‘90s noise rock aggression came off like a product of the times, and how smart actors in this world knew when to jump off the train. Some of them got married and had kids, and those whose bands broke up in the mid-‘90s could have easily been swayed into the security of the tech boom, and the stability that competitive salaries and endless promise brought to them outweighed having to sell themselves on the next generation of kids that came along. Maybe they just got tired of it; maybe they ran out of ideas, and after eight years of road-dogging it, it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. This 7” comes on the eve of the band’s reunion, and since they skipped out on the T&G 25th soiree, it must be pretty serious for them to be getting back to it. These two tracks were leftovers from the Over and Out sessions. “Feel This” is glorious, with bright major chords and a big chorus with an even bigger bridge that could fit on a Superchunk record of any era. In that, it’s a fairly un-Tar like song, and since it wouldn’t fit on any of their other records, using it on the last one could have closed out that album/their career in a more hopeful direction. Their cover of “Hell’s Bells” seems like the perfect AC/DC song for them to interpret, and it seems like this might have been cut for one of those Skin Graft “Sides” comps that never came out. It’s not as good as it could be, particularly because someone other than John is singing it, and it doesn’t sound enough like Tar, but rather some band recording a cover at the eleventh hour of studio time. So far removed from any of their earlier releases, this may only appeal to Tar fans, many of whom will be attending their gig in Chicago this weekend. For them, for myself, and for a lot of people who are probably no longer following music, this is Big News, and with luck (luckyj?), it’ll cause some folks to go back and revisit their catalog, one of the sturdiest of the day, and a great surprise for anyone looking for a direction in rock music that builds upwards and inwards all at once. 300 copies w/ download code. (http://www.chunklet.com)