Across Tundras - Dark Songs of the Prairie - 2006 - Crucial Blast
1. Ramblin' in the Shadows 2. If God Cuts You Down 3. The Old Sexton 4. Ode to George, Pts 1 & 2 5. Dark Flower of the Prairie 6. Cosmic Retribution 7. Aura Lea, Maid of Golden Hair 8. Western Wind
Having ostensibly tired of their hardcore roots in outfits such as Spirit of Versailles and The Hangman Quotient, the Great Plains lads of Across Tundras have banded together and struck out across new territory. Their debut LP, ‘Dark Songs of the Prairie’, comes to us by way of Crucial Blast, a label known for distributing such acts as Genghis Tron, Skullflower, and Totimoshi. All projects quite dissociated from hardcore ichor and angst indeed.
Instead, in accordance with their name, Across Tundras objective is to capture and portray the sweeping grandeur of their rural homeland. This attempt is made through a convincing blend of styles that, while not entirely original, manages well enough at each facet to present a listenable final product. Courtesy of Scott Hull, the drum production in particular is spacious and free, allowing the cymbals in particular to resonate freely and contributing to the expansive atmosphere of the album.
This band is a little too docile to be pure sludge, but also too rooted in tradition to be post-rock, and so in the end they fall somewhere between the two. Crucial Blast are marketing Across Tundras as seriously heavy—‘crushing’, even—but aside from a few tracks hinting at the members’ more musically extreme (i.e. noisy) origins, ‘Dark Songs of the Prairie’ is actually rather soothing. The vocals are buried low in the mix and often muffled by reverb, tending to serve as more of a counterpoint to the guitars than as a lead presence.
For so much of the sludge genre, ‘the riff’ is what it all comes down to, and Across Tundras is clearly aware of this. However, their primary focus lies elsewhere, in the folk roots of Americana, and consequently more attention is paid to subtler instrumentation and less overwhelming structural pieces. The band even goes so far as to include two traditional folk songs, which seem to have provided much of the inspiration for the rest of their stylistic development. Also, to give credit where credit is due, only a few times do Across Tundras give in to the stereotypically post-rock climax technique, and instead prefer to close their songs tersely and without grandeur. The effect of this is double-edged as it leaves each song feeling both honest and incomplete.
Occasional female vocals will also appear, lending the occasional, unpolished, Sonic Youth vibe to the mix. Most other times, ‘Dark Songs of the Prairie’ sounds like a mix of Tom Waits’ and Pelican’s more mediocre moments—gaining some points for novelty of the mixture but not quite connecting all the dots. Songs like ‘Ramblin’ in the Shadows’ and ‘Dark Flower of the Prairie’ show their ability to write focused and far-reaching music; ‘The Old Sextant’ and ‘Aura Lea…’ define their interests in diversity. Assuming the market for post-rock and sludge doesn’t burn itself out in the coming years, as Across Tundras continue to hone their talent and ear for subtlety, chances are they will also carve out a substantial fanbase as well.
Rating: 3 of 5
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