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Tara Jane O'Neil

Tara Jane O'Neil's solo debut is many things at once, all of them unusual. It is the soundtrack to seasonal affective disorder, the clamor of a Midwestern smorgasbord of slow-cooked indie rock, the hum of cognitive dissonance coming from a wanderer with one foot in small-town soil and the other on Big Apple concrete. While this effort will deservedly find an audience in the Cat Power crowd, its lineage is distinctly Louisvillian. O'Neil is a member of Sonora Pine, a trio that toils in themes of tragedy and a kill-me-now aesthetic, and she also helped fuel a band more flammable than the Ohio River, the heavily Shellac-ed and Bastro-ized Rodan. Later, with Cynthia Nelson (who helps out on two Peregrine cuts), O'Neil formed the only slightly less noisy band Retsin. On this do-it-yourself, do-it-at-home project, O'Neil uses small doses of guitar, bass, banjo, balalaika, piano, keyboard, thumb piano and melodica. The resulting smears of American primitive melodies and mostly stringed textures grow more complex and more compelling with each listen. "Flush Thumb Blues" is a half-formed excursion you might overhear while half-asleep in Prospect Park, Brooklyn (the NYC borough is home to the Rare Book Room, where Peregrine was mixed). "Another Sunday" fits snugly into the album despite its musically cool, Chicago guitar-pop pedigree. The idiosyncratic path of "Ode to a Passing" benefits from the meditating violin of Samara Lubelski, O'Neil's bandmate in Sonora Pine. A faint, grinding guitar underscores Karla Schickele's pianistic pain on "Bullhorn Moon," where O'Neil's alluring tonal quality approaches Lida Husik-esque delicacy. Another noteworthy collaborator, Andrew Barker, creates meticulous percussion cradles for four of these fragile tracks. Above it all, O'Neil (who performs Friday, April 14, at the 15th Street Tavern) sings impressionistically about topics to appeal to the stoic and ironic alike: freezing, sparing change, chain-smoking, the sun going into hiding, weaving fictions into sweaters and a laughing lady who hid hate under her hat. As the title implies, Peregrine is a somewhat meandering journey, but there's nothing aimless about it.
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Thomas Peake

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