[EXPERIMENTAL FLUTTERINGS] Tara Jane O'Neil is that rare musician who always sounds like she's searching for new modes by which to express her overwhelming supply of artistic ideas. While O'Neil came to the attention of the indie world through her membership in groups like Rodan and Retsin, her solo work (along with sideline work sitting in with Jackie-O Motherfucker and Mount Eerie) has allowed her to tear into everything from noise to lucid folk to knee-buckling psych rock.
O'Neil's latest work finds her collaborating with friend and Japanese touring mate Nikaido Kazumi on an album of free-form songs, which glide in and out of the conscious world like dust motes through a sunbeam.
The two apparently conceived the material here using pantomime and drawings, as neither spoke the other's native language. And yet the music never feels disjointed. The smattering of instrumentation—a floor tom or jangling bit of percussion here, a touch of guitar or keyboard there—settles in perfectly with wordless vocal melodies that serve either to lull or jar.
It's rare when the album settles on anything that could be potentially recognizable to the average listener. O'Neil slips in little grace notes of blues licks into songs like "Nursery" and the exquisite closing track, "Temple Lullaby." Otherwise, she and Kazumi bracingly saunter all over the sonic map, vocalizing with Yoko Ono-like intensity over the sound of the titular instrument on "Thumb Drum" or evoking the quiet chug and hums of "4 Trains." The disc may strike some listeners as challenging, but the rewards that come from giving oneself over to its delicate beauty are vast.
HEAR IT: This album will be available at finer Portland record stores Tuesday, May 24