Tawny Peaks are a band from Montclair, New Jersey, formed by Charlie Perris (vocals), Molly Grund (vocals), Jonah Fried ( bass, vocals), Sam Skinner ( guitar, recordings & production) and Dexter Loos (drums).
This is their first self-recorded, self-released album, offered graciously as a free download on their bandcamp page.
In my book, indie bands with vocalists on one side and musicians on the other side don’t really work.
I was wrong.
It is one of the best indie records of the year and Tawny Peaks might well become part of indie history, a name to remember and a reference if they goes on in this direction on future releases.
Among the eight songs, six are mind-blowing, one is a weak twinkle emo punk song, “Molehill”, the other one “Ambiguity” would deserve being reworked, developed and recorded again because it’s a great song which is not receiving the right treatment, and looks here in such clothes like a b-side of Rainer Maria.
I think the reason it works is that both the vocals and the music are strong speaking of content and form.
As the main vocalist, Charlie Perris has got a strong presence and Molly Grund completes this with subtlety and bright harmonies, adding a softer but still sensible touch. The lyrics are well thought and well written, but mostly almost on each song you’ve got this instant when you just want to rewind the song to listen to the words again, because they have this sense of formula which often transcends the song.
Speaking of music, the role of the guitar is always impressive, it is played at the same level as the vocals and brings as much nuances and subtleties to the song, often making the difference.
Sam Skinner is a great indie guitar player with a deep understanding of style which goes far beyond the math/emo territory and embraces large indie roots with an impressive sensitivity and control of tension through the songs. If he's a talented guitar player, he's not falling into the guitar hero trap and is instead someone able to understand the complex alchemy of a song, and able to push the limits further, avoiding selfishness and counterproductive self-satisfaction.
These elements create together a climate of emulation which make them work conjointly in order to reach a rare artistic balance. I cannot easily compare them to other bands but names such as American Football, Victory at Sea, Rainer Maria, Modest Mouse, Three Mile Pilot, Metal Hearts come in my mind.
They may come from the emo/hardcore/math scene but they surpass their origin with the talent of their songwriting and are just so fucking good. Opening track, “With steps” is just a hymn, not so unlike the Front Bottoms’s “Swimming Pool” and I imagine scenes of live fury during shows with crowds of fans singing along. This is this kind of song you can identify yourself strongly with and want to make your own and the last part is really making it a winner.
“Collect Calling” could be just the kind of song The Anniversary did so well on their album “Designing a nervous breakdown” until suddenly right at the middle they transform the song with an unexpectedly quiet part and a rise of tension, until coming to a conclusion repeating some of the brightest lyrics I’ve ever read in this genre: “You act like the world's one giant fuse waiting to blow / And every tiny tremor digs into the very center of your soul / I can't put this on paper, so how can I talk to you?”.
Then there is "More Proof", their "American Football meets Rainer Maria" song. I’ve dreamt of such songs for years, and still cross my fingers that there will be such ones on the debut album by Brave Bird too. Once again it starts like a rough ball of melodic energy, which is progressively refined. Surprisingly the slower acoustic live version of this song available on Vimeo is greater than the album one, auguring that Tawny Peaks still have their best days available in front of them.
“March Sadness” is the song where they switch the vocals, with Molly taking the lead of this acoustic song. It reminds me of Caithlin de Marrais (Rainer Maria singer) solo records, but once again only until the last part where they finally add their magical touch with a beautiful electric guitar part, singint together, until this clever enigmatic phrase : “Risking forks in the road “. Attacked on both sides, you can only surrender.
“The Tree Song” is purely melodic and joyful, but much more experimental in terms of structure, built on urgency, cut-ups and repetitions, the kind of development you may have expected to find on one of the two first Joan of Arc records.
And they had to finish on an upbeat melancholic eight minutes song and they did it very well with “Bring back the mountain”.
I really don’t know what’s in the pipeline for Tawny Peaks, but their debut album happens now and makes me feel deeply happy and entertained, putting levels in the red.