Kooky, folky and poppy: Now, Now is a delightful listen, somehow being both calm and upbeat in one. Take the cute and quirky Kimya Dawson and add a shoegaze feel and you may land on something similar sounding. Odd drone bits and some deadpan singing create an indie feel that simultaneously offsets and complements the powerpop songs.
Jess Abbott is one third of Now, Now, sharing duties as guitarist and singer. This review is about her side project, Tancred. Out Of The Garden is the follow up to 2011’s Capes and 2013’s self-titled album.
Despite being the third full studio Tancred album, this is the first that feels fully formed and cohesive. It was written over a two year period outside of Now, Now’s touring schedule, when Abbott found alternative work at a liquor shop in a rough part of town. Abbott used the writing process to make sense of her feelings, at first feeling vulnerable, and then defiant as she walked home alone at night in less desirable areas.
Abbott hired two producers for this album, the first being That Dog vocalist/guitarist Anna Waronker – whose influence is unmistakable. The second producer is OFF! bassist Steven McDonald. I saw OFF! open for the Red Hot Chili Peppers several years ago, and I’d wager that they are as close to a modern day Black Flag as you’re going to find. For her band, Abbott recruited Walking Oceans sticksman Terrence Vitali to lay down beats, and Terrence Vitali to round out the trio on bass. Between them, these five capable musicians have enough attitude, skills and experience to make one very exciting record. (They all have vocal parts on the album as well).
The crunchy guitar riff hook that starts off album opener “Bed Case” foreshadows a fun listen ahead. The distorted guitar – coupled with the catchy hand clap styled chorus – makes for a perfect pop number.
I must say that the album seems a bit formulaic. And although somewhat predictable, don’t confuse formulaic for bad. The structure seems to involve lots of palm-muted strumming to build tension, before launching into a chorus that reminds you why Tancred is so worth listening to. Next we hear plenty a guitar solo in the bridge that dies down just before a triumphant end chorus.
This is not to say it all sounds the same. Trashy drum tones and aggressive grungy distortion give attack and attitude to an otherwise quite sweet sound. “Hang Me” stands out from the rest of the album, with a stripped back melancholy feel, with “Sell My Head” bringing the mood back up at ripping pace with a cutesy disjointed guitar solo. I also love how “Pretty Girls” channels the same sound as the rest of the album, but seems stripped back, with acoustic sounding bass, and drumsticks tapping on drum rims in a linear pattern.
Lyrically, Abbott sounds unsure of herself and where she fits in, with lines like “I’ll just never be cool/ I’ll never be one of you”, and “I would kill to be one of the boys”. However she certainly sounds bolder, with more exciting playing, and stronger vocals than I’ve heard from her previously, verging on showing off with plenty of gorgeous “ooh’s” and “ahh’s”. It’s a bit of a dichotomy, with self-assured music disguising underlying insecurities. It is as Abbott says, “sugary, but when listening closely, unsettling.”
Out Of The Garden is a tale of finding confidence, or at the very least, projecting it. Abbott selected some great collaborators to help her create this record, and this is her best work to date. Go ahead and listen to Tancred, and you’ll be rewarded with half an hour of deliciously fun indie powerpop.