Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Album Review: Tarot - Reflections

As I get older, I notice that one of the things I most appreciate in the music I listen to is authenticity. I like knowing that the music I hear is as it actually is, and isn't the creation of a host of computers messing with the natural order. There is something about hearing a sound that is so identifiable as what a guitar plugged into an amp should sound like that is hard to explain. It's why I've been so happy about the growing roster of bands that are embracing the vintage sounds of the 70s, even if most of them are still lacking in their results. Anything that moves us closer to having music go back to sounding like music is good with me.

Tarot is an Australian band that fits into that mold, playing a style of hard rock that lifts straight out of the days of Deep Purple and Rainbow. And like the records of yesteryear, they make their initial statement in a sprightly thirty-four minutes, resisting the urge to stay past their welcome.

We're ushered in with "Autumn Conjuration", which spends its first minute with a beautifully picked acoustic guitar, before things kick up with wonderfully vintage guitar tones and organ swells that warm my heart. The song makes good use of those dynamics, weaving between softer and heavier moments, with some lovely lead guitar thrown in. The only thing holding the song back is the vocal delivery, which reminds me of Manilla Road, a comparison that isn't one to celebrate. The vocals are thin and weak, which does detract from what is really a fun song.

As "Heed The Call" follows, we figure out more that Tarot is going for a feeling as much as anything else. They do an effective job of setting a slightly dark, laid-back tone that I can't immediately name-check with any other bands. There is clearly an appreciation for occult rock in the sound, but it's played without a commitment to the theater that sounds normally requires. Tarot is using it as a means of playing what I can only describe as relaxing hard rock.

Here's what I mean by that; if you're looking for an album to make you pump your fist, filled with songs that will capture your mind, this isn't that album. What "Reflections" is can more accurately be described as an album to put on late at night, with the lights turned low, when you want to drift away from reality. For those purposes, it's a perfect album.

Take "Strange Dimensions", for example. As it approaches the end, it reaches what should be a huge crescendo. I can hear the bits having been written, but the delivery lacks the power to make that moment pop out from the rest of the song. It could have been amazing, but the circumstances leave it as being merely good. It's the same thing with "Cloak And Dagger", which is my favorite track here. There's a solid hook that was written, but the delivery doesn't drive it home the way I would like it to.

Ultimately, "Reflections" is one of those albums that is promise waiting to be fulfilled. I love the sound and atmosphere that Tarot has created, and there are riffs and hooks in here that show me that they can be something really good, but the execution here isn't up to the level of what I sense they're capable of. They need more power and conviction, and a better vocal delivery would help. If they found that, "Reflections" can be the first chapter in a very good career. It's still a good album, and I enjoyed my time listening to it, but it sounds like an unrefined, unfinished product. The good news is that there very well could be a diamond in there, once the polishing is done.

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