The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Dispatches From the Drift Johny Lamb , August 24th, 2021 08:14

A series of fragile driftworks from the LA-based multi-instrumentalist

From the text on TJO's Bandcamp about this release, you’d expect something perhaps less developed than what is offered up. These are experimental moments "caught in the drift". Partially improvised, captured in notebook style in either DAW or on the phone of the artist also known as Tara Jane O’Neil. Some things are multi-tracked and one thing sung – the beautiful, slow motion, but sort of incongruous dream pop opener 'A Sunday 2020'. Most other tracks are single-take keyboard musings. Now, I’m not sure what O’Neil is using here, but I'd guess at some kind(s) of soft synth enriched by plugin effects, played out into the room and captured by internal microphones on phone or laptop. The result gives us a lovely kind of digital lo-fi. I mean lo-fi in the audio sense, not in a way that implies genre. Most sounds have that sort of pleasing distortion that well-made phone recordings can have. She does dissonance well, and those close, gnarly intervals are neatly placed amongst wider chord voicings where she seems to favour fifths and fourths, denying often any tangible sense of major or minor key. 'Pump Sounding' and 'Phaser Secret' both play nicely in this area.

O’Neil is very clear that these are not things to be revisited and developed later, but rather they are "complete, travelling pieces that resolve, or simply end". It is certainly true that with further editing and arrangement this could be sculpted into something else, with more obvious substance, more considered structure and so on, but this is not the point. This release exists as a means of a composer underscoring moments of creative spark that had been thought lost along with gigs and studio time in the recent months. These snapshots are important to this end. For the artist to recognise that they are in fact making something, even when it feels like maybe they aren’t. "What a trick I played on myself!" she writes, and it’s convincing somehow. There’s no underlying theme, nothing to prove, just some things to share. Her idea of 'the drift' is important in getting to grips with this, I think. The various meanings of the word conspire here to form a singularity. To be carried, to be aimless, to be deposited in a heap. All definitions apply at once to help inform how we should receive this work.

Is it all wonderful? No, but it is always interesting and enjoyable. The sounds and details are often fascinating and odd, clunky even. The structures meandering and distracted, and the ideas fleeting but drawn out, allowed to breathe. There are some lovely drone-based things later on too, with the slightly manic 'Hurdy Short' being a charming piece of flotsam, before spiralling into 'It’s been a long time', a denser and sort of folk-like piece that flirts, via glissando, with interesting microtonality. This is my favourite thing on the release, as it employs the most development of timbre and dissonance through its duration.