Tarwater - Spider Smile

George Bass 23/03/2007

Rating: 4/5

Tarwater's sixth studio album sees them following in the footsteps of Neon Golden, the breakthrough LP from fellow countrymen The Notwist, by rounding up a slew of conventional instruments to stir into their electronic potion. Spider Smile is a smoothly soldered assembly of harmonised synthetic stunts, analogue reverie and Germanic-accented vocals, many of which seem to attack the pomposity of dictatorial religion while keeping the fun factor as highly cranked as possible. World Of Things To Touch is one of the punchiest pop songs of the year: a deep slice of uplifting lyrical electronica in the vein of Darren Hayman's Casio tag-team The French, complete with walkie-talkie squeals to layer on the childlike wonder and give it a Múmmy flavour. The album also sees the band equally at home when lending their hand to instrumental ventures, such as on opener Shirley Temple where they fuse digital quacks with banjo shrapnel to make something resembling the Catterick soundtrack, grizzly as the wild west and with more honks than The Frog Chorus. Surprisingly, they manage to keep the strong experimental flame burning through most of the eleven tracks on the LP, and seem to shine brightest when having fun with their recordings. Shimmering rotor blades give way to frosty trip hop on Lower Manhattan Pantoum, while frontman Ronald Lippok repeatedly intones 'Someone says let's pray/Always a bad sign/Always a bad sign'. The agnostic motif rears up on several occasions, most notably on the folk-on-meth strumfest of Easy Sermon. 'Every creature turns to a preacher/For the meaning of it all' - words that sound more like an observation than a warning, and bolstered by a beat that could see off a trance woofer. The restrained efforts work just as well too: When Love Was The Law In Los Angeles buries freckly guitars in a two-tier computer drone to produce a grinworthy super-16 fantasy. You can even imagine Corbin Bensen throwing shapes while he gurns to the Wurlitzer apostrophes and rose-tinted innocence of the lyrics. The well-mannered circus of twelve-strings, harmonicas, marimbas and oboes annotate the album's android beats neatly, and the cover art reminiscent of seventies Penguin paperbacks reinforces the retro-futurity of the subtext. On the whole, a must-have record for anyone who likes their music to move forwards.