What's it been, two months since Birdy Bardot dropped their debut album on an unsuspecting world and ended up with an inclusion in June's SoundDiego Record Club? Never one to rest on his laurels, Alfred Howard -- the man behind (or at least involved with) San Diego bands like the Heavy Guilt, Rebecca Jade & the Cold Fact, Erik Canzona & the Narrows, the Black Sands and, yes, Birdy Bardot -- has another new project and another new album to go with it. World, meet Dani Bell & the Tarantist and behold "Dark West," their excellent debut record.
How did we get here? Are we being trolled by Howard and Co. (who now refer to many of their collective groups as the Redwoods)? Not quite (although maybe a little). It's been a minute since bands used to drop two, maybe even three, records a year -- but it did happen at one time in history, and it wasn't so unusual back then. Whatever the case may be now, I'm chalking up Howard's continuous musical output to new inspiration (i.e., his most recent muse, singer/songwriter Dani Bell) and a tireless push to create.
"Dark West" is the end result of Howard's writing collaboration with Bell (who wrote nearly all of the music herself, and who also fronts the local indie-rock band Boychick) and features some of the same players (a who's who in the local music scene) we've come to expect from the percussionist/writer's recent work: Jake Najor mans the drum kit; Josh Rice and Tim Felton play keys; Jason Littlefield lends his immense bass-playing skills; Sean Martin, Dillon Casey and Chris Davies contribute guitar; and a bevy of excellent vocalists (Shelbi Bennett, Birdy Bardot, Matt Molarius, Trent Hancock) join up for background vocals.
The album is a smoldering take on the "California soul" we heard on Birdy Bardot's latest record but with an altogether different flavor thanks to Bell's chill-as-hell vocals and the whimsical 1964 Acetone Drum Machine that threads its way through the various songs. They flow from one atmospheric '60s-pop/R&B infused gem to another, with Hammond organ joining watery electric piano, cavernous electric guitar stabs, reverb-drenched harmonies and all the head-nodding melody one could ever hope for.
Taking various cues from some of Motown's earlier pop hits, they've paired down that label's unbridled exuberance for a much more refined and reserved tone -- sounding like it was cooked up on long, winding drives through the desert amid scorching heat and wind-shaped Joshua trees instead of in the heart of a bustling metropolis. When Bell finally pulls back the covers and lays into "Blank Page" toward the end of the record, it's like that endless, sweaty drive finally made its way to the wide-open ocean and erupted with a fountain of relief.
Listen to it in full below.
Do the right thing and purchase Dani Bell & the Tarantist's record from the official Redwoods website.
Dustin Lothspeich plays in Old Tiger, Diamond Lakes and Boy King. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.