Black Taj Review
by Patrick Muldowney
If you like long instrumental introductions, and do not fit into the hippie or classic rock nation, celebrate the self-titled debut of Black Taj. This band is far from new to the scene though, representing a partial reunion of Polvo, one of the greatest bands during the 90s. If the name, Polvo, still does not ring a bell, it is because they hold the rare distinction of being more influential than notorious. For example, few indie scenesters would recognize Malaysia as a hotbed for new music, but there is a collective there who are producing great music, and noting the Polvo influence. With that in mind, soccer and Polvo might make a proper analogy in America. Regardless, Black Taj continues in much the same tradition with guitarist/vocalist Dave Brylawski, and bassist Steve Popson. They represent a powerful duo, and teamed with Thomas Atherton and Grant Tennille (also of Brylawski's Idyll Swords), the quartet may be the most imposing rock band, indie or otherwise. They might even hold up in an offstage band fight, resembling members of the old high school football team.
The structure of each Black Taj song may be most comparable to Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan, in that guitar is featured prominently, while the rhythm section accentuates the sound with fills and buildups, when not hanging in the pocket. Vocals, many times, seem to be more of an afterthought, beginning at least a minute into the average song, and disappearing often during the last minute. This does not mean the vocals are wasteful or ineffective, but when listening to this album, you will never mistake them for pop. "Back to the Bridges", the first track, is a 7-minute anthem that takes this structure to its limits beautifully. The first three minutes are instrumental, and the music is so phenomenal, vocals would just be distracting. I could imagine standing in the middle of a blue-collar bar during this song, and witnessing middle-aged men rocking out the air band version of this song all around me. Those not talented enough would be pumping rock hand signals over their heads. It's just too bad reality would probably have a bunch of inhibitive college listeners studying and dissecting this incredible band, while standing incredibly still.
Considering the talent and originality of Black Taj, the possibility of a dud on this debut album, or any future album, is impossible. The most memorable songs, though, once the disc has stopped playing are "Cinema Style" and "Clover". For "Cinema Style", the initial hook is provided by the guitar, which is playing a variation on a scale. Unlike the usual practice, vocals appear early and last throughout, including a noticeable chorus, which begs the question, "When your life's a film, playing in your mind, do you fast forward?" "Clover" displays the incredible talent of Steve Popson as a bassist. The straight power chords during the verse, allow him to shed his normal modesty as a player, and show his chops.
The best way to judge the true value of this album is through repeated listens. This is not an album for those trying to consume the latest flavor of the month, because its roots truly lay in sounds that have maintained relevance for the past few decades. Black Taj, along with the previous projects of its members, is in a weird middle world, in that it is too modern for classic rock, too rock for standard indie pop/rock, and too technical and lengthy for music of the masses. For this reason, they may continue to rock in obscurity at the wrong venues, and in front of the wrong crowds, with a loyal subculture who appreciates every single note. This fate is not necessary though. If music fans allow themselves the slightest crack to open in their narrow listening comfort zone, Black Taj will bust its way through.
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