Saturday, December 30, 2006

21 Tandem Repeats—Never Wanted to be Anyone (Canada Lynx)
In his efforts to promote the band, I think Super Robertson used to get frustrated trying to nail down a tidy description for 21 Tandem Repeats. What genre did they fit into? His old band, Roadbed, used to mix jazz with indie rock; now with a revamped band that includes Roadbed drummer Two Sticks Hobbs, Willingdon Black, and Alvaro Rojas, he’s injected a little folk into the mix. But is it folky enough for folkies; does it rock hard enough for rockers? In the end, he found the perfect outlet for the band: 7:30 to 8:30 every Wednesday night at the Railway Club, with the occasional “away” gig to mix things up and get in front of a new crowd. It’s good early-evening music—easy on the ears and good for any soul battered by the working day. If I had to call their music anything, I’d arm myself with a huge grain of very salty salt and suggest “tree planter rock”—amiable, groove-focused, head-bobbin’ stuff. I can hear it on a song like “Wishing Machine”—just a couple chords and a groove and a line that goes, “I’m here to get down.” Sounds like not much, I know, but Super’s scattershot sense of lyrical phrasing and the guitar touches of his latest foil, Willingdon Black, make it more than a blissed-out 4:20 jam band nodfest.

Never Wanted to be Anyone is a little slow out of the gate, with a mellow half dozen tracks highlighted by “Jupiter,” a lovely song in a novel 6/4 groove, written by Dave Hind, one of Robertson’s musical mentors. The next song, “Fuse Lit Bombs,” originally appeared in more ethereal form on 21 TR’s debut home job release the ocean is life. This version is far more “produced,” with abrupt changes in drum beats that actually make it less folky than the original. It’s still a strong number, although it’s nothing like the version you’ll hear on the previous release or at the Railway Club. “Blue Skies” is dedicated to Super’s daughter and, as befits its “hope for the future” sentiments, incorporates the sweet stylings of guest vocalist Land of Deborah.

The second half of the album is definitely more exuberant, starting with the deliberate & driving title track, on which WB asserts his presence via a lead guitar duel with himself during the song’s lengthy run-out. “Failure” really takes things into rockland, where SR’s self-deprecating lyrics butt against WB’s feisty lead guitar. Everything works here—this is how the band sounds live—as it does on “Dish Pig,” another Dave Hind song with lyrics by the late Steve Waller (to whom tribute is paid in the superbly presented liner notes). The album bows out with “Maiden,” a mold-breaking number that abandons the usual groove formula in favour of stringing together some cool parts. Top it off with vocals by Sim Special of SuperSimian fame, and it almost sounds like a different band. It’s a welcome deviation in the songwriting approach and a strong number to go out on. This album lives up to its title. 21 Tandem Repeats don’t want to be anyone (other than themselves). They’re tight, smart, and completely free of attitude or pretension. They’re through being cool. I wonder what they’re doing in the music business.

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