(Carrot Top Records)
Antietam debuted in the Louisville indie scene back during the 80s. Although Louisville has since emerged as an amazing music scene producing artists like Will Oldham (Palace, Bonnie "Prince" Billy) and My Morning Jacket, Louisville bands in the 80s looked to bigger cities to further their music careers. Many went to Chicago (Eleventh Dream Day, Freakwater), but Antietam chose to make New York City their second home, where they still live and work today.
Led by the married duo of Tara Key and Tim Harris (guitar and bass, respectively) and ably supported by longtime drummer Josh Madell, Antietam has been drinking deeply from the Velvet Underground well, connecting with other artists (Yo La Tengo) influenced by that seminal NYC ensemble.
VU paved the way for punk, art rock, and helped invent the indie music aesthetic that still lives today. Being based in NYC allowed the band further exploration of these creative avenues. Antietam released six albums over the span of a decade before going silent in 1994. After that, Key continued to make music as a solo artist as well as collaborating with Rick Rizzo of Eleventh Dream Day.
In 2004, Antietam roared back with renewed vigor by releasing Victory Park. Now that Antietam appears again to be Key's primary creative vehicle, the band has begun to show a wider scope, inhabiting many influences beyond VU. Opus Mixtum, a double album, followed in 2007 bringing together a diversity of sonics and a newly found love for the instrumental. Antietam extends their creative hot streak with the release of Tenth Life.
Fresh off the sprawling sounds of Opus Mixtum, Antietam seems re-focused on how to deliver a tightly constructed rock record. This 38 minute gem provides a blueprint for today's rock youngsters to follow.
One of Antietam's secret weapons has always been Key's guitar playing. Although still punk in spirit, Key channels Keith Richards in the best possible way, building songs off of riffs that are slinky, explosive, and driving. Key takes rock guitar's constructs and expands them without ever losing its dangerous essence. Combine this with her banshee wail of a voice, and you have power trio that emphasizes power.
The first four songs shift the album right into fifth gear at a drag race. From "Numbered Days" to "Big Bluff Love", Tenth Life roars. The midpoint duo of "Things You Can't Explain" and the "Clarion" reveal Opus Mixtum's instrumental influence with the former having few lyrics and the latter none at all. These songs serve as a break leading to the album's home stretch.
"Better Man" and "Lucky Day" would both make Keith proud. As Richards has always known from his career made out of worshiping at the altar of Chuck Berry, rock and roll is built on the riff. It's an art to find it and to play it. Both Key's respective guitar hooks on "Better Man" and "Lucky Day" will get into your head in the best kind of way.
When Tenth Life ends with "(Keep Me) Satisfied", it sounds like a statement of purpose. Whether its Stones reference was intentional or not, Antietam has clearly found themselves and doesn't intend to lose momentum.
While not properly appreciated during their first run of recordings, Antietam deserves to finally get the wider notice that eluded them years ago. Few bands have the goods they do.
We here at Swampland understand the value of experience. Maybe the mainstream music world is obsessed with youth, but only veteran rockers with some miles on the tires can deliver this level of achievement.
- Jim Markel