Bombadil remains a breath of fresh Carolina air. Upon hearing their previous album, A Buzz, a Buzz, the listener could instantly understand that this is a band with a cinematic feel. Like the mystical literary worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, from which the band takes its name, Bombadil creates a similarly magical musical world for its audience.
Tarpits And Canyonlands, their follow up to A Buzz, a Buzz, still lives in the same musical world, but it is a huge advance sonically. This is a bold band, and in each note it is clear that they are doing what they love. They are not afraid to mix disparate styles, sounds, and textures to make something unique.
Like its predecessor, the music of Tarpits And Canyonlands is played with great verve and energy. Behind an almost symphonic flurry of acoustic instruments, the songs are often driven by gang vocals that can sound like a crowd of lovingly rowdy drunks. It is almost as if a group of Beatles-influenced musicians from the Carolina mountains were dropped into the conservatory of an old British castle where they proceeded to pick up whatever instruments they found and started experimenting with sounds.
I Am starts the album off perfectly with its small sound/huge sound/small sound journey, and it ends with the closing tune, Kate and Kelsey, which is just vocals and guitar. In between, the musical journey of Tarpits And Canyonlands becomes as vast and wide as the geographic title of the album implies.
There is the pop brilliance of Sad Birthday shimmering with hand claps and piano chords leading into thunderous drums - a radio hit in a perfect world - as well as Oto the Bear, a slice baroque pop via the Beatles mixed in with a dash Queen's Bohemian rhapsody. With its sense of British Isles folk immersed in headphone-ready production, the album crosses post-Faces Ronnie Lane with the White Album's sense of rambling styles all the while feeling like a soundtrack to a lost Wes Anderson film.
Perhaps the secret to Bombadil's sound comes from how the band conceives the idea of the instruments it plays. Daniel Michalak of Bombadil explains:
"Take an instrument to someplace it hasn't been before. Take something small and ordinary and make it special and grand."
Bandmate Bryan Rahija delves deeper:
"We're really conscious of the roles that we want instruments to play. IInstruments can play the roles of characters in songs. They can take on a life beyond just notes or just playing along."
Through their singular process, Bombadil reveals music with a strong sense of optimism and hope that is also strangely soulful. (We hope that this sense of optimism still lives strongly with Bombadil's Daniel Michalak who continues his extended and difficult battle with tendinitis that has prevented the band from doing any touring since the record's release back in July. Swampland wishes him a speedy and complete recovery.)
In a world of cookie-cutter copycats, bands must be appreciated for their boldness of vision. Bombadil's bold vision continues on this latest opus.
- Jim Markel