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Tsar - 'The Dark Stuff' EP (Lojinx) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Gaz E   
Monday, 01 October 2012 04:00

tsarEPIt's hardly unheard of to go to a gig specifically to catch the support band, especially if you consider yourself 'clued-in', but to see a support band blur through a set so perfect that you had to leave as soon as they had finished, knowing nothing could possibly compare to it, has happened to me only once...

 

UK glam dandies Rachel Stamp made the mistake of taking LA power pop princes Tsar out on a British tour with them and must have paid dearly every single night because the show that I caught in Cardiff's Clwb Ifor Bach was the ultimate example of a night peaking too soon. I stood there - or tried to, the songs from 2000's self-titled album pulsing my frame into throwing shapes - and sang every word from set start to end. Then left. Satisfied.

 

That debut album from Tsar remains timeless in my music collection. The sparkling mix of power pop anthems and alt subtlety was, like Kathy Fong, the bomb. The band should have been courted as musical darlings, saviours of stagnant scenes; instead, for whatever reasons - too difficult to pigeonhole possibly, not pretty enough, whatever - their promise, and album splattered with potential hit singles, was criminally overlooked. Their sophomore long player, 'Band-Girls-Money', appeared in 2005 and was a darker affair; their journey to its release - shelved for a couple of years, 50% of the line-up changed after recording - a definite case of life imitating art. Great album as it, again, was Tsar, writers of classic song 'I Don't Wanna Break Up', kinda did.

 

At the beginning of 2010 the band's original line-up - Jeff Whalen, Daniel Kern, Jeff Solomon and Steve Coulter - got back together and now, last year's 'The Drugboy Tapes' (a collection of live songs and demos from 1998) excepted, Tsar return with 'The Dark Stuff' EP. A more highly anticipated five tracks I cannot remember in the year of the dragon.

 

'Punctual Alcoholic' eases us into this most welcome of returns and, deliciously underplayed on acoustic guitar, another addictive Tsar song is given birth. It grooves with a definite '60s undercurrent, the riff as meaty as it gets on an acoustic, yet with the fat trimmed off. The low-key sound is offset with lyrics about zombies and Stephen King and, in just over four minutes, that cooler-than-thou Tsar influenced smile is all over my face. It's been way too long.

 

Second song, 'Police Station', hits the top of the power pops charts in a fashion that I guess I truly hoped for when thinking of new material from this great band. Yes, Tsar excel in laidback songwriting mode, but when the band hits the sonic springboard with a three minute tune that soars and shines then there really are few bands better in the same field.

 

'Little Women' follows, riding in on a wave of subtle guitar and hand claps that echo both The Doors and the Dandy Warhols, before settling into a dreamy '60s influenced slowburner. 'White Lipstick' takes the four piece back into the garage, a fuzzed out riff and vocal - complete with uber-approved "whoo-hoos" - moving this song towards an ending that comes all too soon. Final song, 'Something Bad Happened To Me', is another more subtle affair, again dreamy, again infectious.

 

Tsar, in 2012, still appear masters of the art of mixing up catchy-as-cooties pop tunes with intelligent, restrained flashes of songwriting genius. It's just that the latter now appear to have overtaken the former in the band's list of priorities. It comes with age perhaps. If, like me, you have grown older with this band's music over the last dozen years you might understand it better.

 

The EP's first real hook says it all really; "I wanna waste my time, waste my money, and do stupid things that get me in trouble." Yes, the sounds might have matured but not the sentiment. We all grow older, yet we don't have to grow, or give, up.

 

'The Dark Stuff' should be filed alongside Ken Stringfellow's 'Danzig In The Moonlight' and Nada Surf's 'The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy' as 2012's finest examples of adult orientated power pop; AOPP for those who like to put tags on the toes of dead cool music.

 

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To pick up your copy of 'The Dark Stuff - EP' - CLICK HERE