The band's sounds are as important as its songs on its debut album.
Still Life, the debut album by Darcy Malone and the Tangle, is aptly named. Still life paintings make the skills behind the image the true subject of the work of art, and the story on this album is how the songs are rendered as much as the songs themselves.
The band will play its album-release party tonight at Tipitina’s, and on Still Life Jagon Eldridge’s sax plows into “Babycakes” with such textured force that the song jumps to life immediately. The watery keyboards in “Crossing Line” have a soft percussiveness that is in stately counterpoint to Malone’s warm, airy ooooohs. Rick Nelson produced the album and Richard Dodd, who mastered albums by Tom Petty and Dixie Chicks, mastered it, and they’ve made sure that each sound on the album has impact. Even a final organ chord at the end of the title track has life as it briefly pans from left to right and back before the song finally concludes.
The craft in the sound is obvious, and it matters because the parts matter. The sax is a jolt of electricity each time it comes in. Malone’s voice is brassy or vulnerable or upfront or elusive, depending on the needs of the song, and throughout the album the songs have exactly what they need with nothing spare. The guitars have some of the brittle, scrubbed quality of a Fender Jazzmaster to evoke Television (an admitted influence) on the title track, and they keep the mid-’60s British pop verse from sounding simply retro.
That sort of combination gives the band’s name, as the members consider it a “tangle of genres.” For the most part, that tangle is a pretty common one among Americana bands—rock, new wave, R&B, and soul. There may be other styles in the mix, but they’re influences that affect how band members play and are only subtly evident. Since few bands are the product of a single genre—even the ones that take a very specific path—The Tangle’s sound is fairly familiar. There are Beatlesque moments, some blues, and some restless, garage rock tracks.
None of them are so different that Still Life sounds disjointed, and Malone’s voice unifies them. She can be compelling even when the sentiment and the song are a bit commonplace, as they are on “Be a Man.”
For me, the inexplicable parts of Still Life are the three songs with lead vocals by Chris Boye, a guitarist in the band and Malone’s husband. They’re fine, and i’m not the first person to hear a little of The B-52’s Fred Schneider in his delivery. But I never understand bands that have strong, defining lead vocalists and let other people sing anyway. It may be democratic, but when Boye sings lead on three songs, The Tangle sound like a band that exists in every city in America—one that has an audience and fans but also limits as to how big it could be. The Tangle is truly a band, but its life is a little stiller when its best singer is on the bench.