The handful of reviewers to have already tackled this debut from Richmond, Virginia outfit Tulsa Drone have all commented on its “cinematic” qualities -• that is, its resemblance to a score for a nonexistent film. For once, I have no choice but to side with majority opinion. No Wake is a compelling, meandering instrumental effort more concerned with evoking a mood than spelling out a particular love or loss in standard verse/chorus/verse format. The only things missing are a darkened theatre and the staccato of a projector running some monochrome art house film (likely to include the black-and white images of the Aurora Borealis featured on the No Wake cover art).
What makes Tulsa Drone rather unique in comparison to all the other post-rock groups working along these same lines — Dirty Three comes to mind here, not to mention quite a few bands on the 54Âº40′ or Fight! roster — is their use of the dulcimer, a chordophone of Middle Eastern origin. Forerunner to the harpsichord and the piano, it’s closer to the former than the latter in purely sonic terms. The instrument, played on this album by Peter Neff, has a bright, fluid sound that can be used to develop wistful, atmospheric, highly textural melodies. This is done to great effect on No Wake, with the dulcimer sometimes taking the leading role (“Honcho Toro”) and other times functioning as a rhythmic device (“Vendetta”). Far from being a gimmick to snag the attention of jaded A&R men, the instrument is a vital and organic part of the band.
Despite its deviation from the norm, No Wake should not be a wholly unfamiliar experience. Most of the songs clock in at the customary three or four minute mark. And in addition to the audible similarities with other contemporary bands who have eschewed a vocalist, some of the languorous southwestern trumpet (“Honcho Toro” again, and “Fiery Seven”) and fuzz effects (“D-A-F”) recall the Boo Radleys’ album Everything’s Alright Forever. “D-A-F,” incidentally, is the only track on the album to overstay its welcome — by about two-and-a-half minutes.
While No Wake doesn’t strike me as the sort of album that will go on to enjoy sudden and universal acclaim, it has a distinctive allure and a freshness that ought to make it a favorite among those who are willing to take the time and effort to seek it out and give it a listen. Given enough critical and word-of-mouth endorsement, this album might even bring about the film for which it might have been written.
Dry County: http://www.drycounty.net/