Across Tundras - Dark Songs Of The Prairie - Crucial Blast 2006
Running Time: 51:34
Shuffling, stuttering drums crack the air like thunder during the opening strains of "Ramblin' In The Shadows", until dark curtains of sound waft down, vocals seeming shouted from the top of the Colorado mountains from whence come Across Tundras. Shambling fingers wring white hot intensity from rusty strings in testament to the almighty power of well-played rock and roll with all the weight of the Great White Buffalo. Barely seven minutes into Dark Songs Of The Prairie, it's hard not to already be captivated by the majesty here. It's not that Across Tundras is above tossing a few monster riffs into each song just for shits and giggles, either. The progression that pounds from the speakers at 7:45 is almost too Hessian for its own good, giving us a chance to relive such seemingly mundane moments as racing through the country in a battered pickup, can of cheap beer warming in your hand and classic rock ripping from long-blown speakers. The vocal work of AT isn't the most intelligible, which could be a problem for some detractors, but fans of bands as diverse as Swans or Buffalo Springfield should be able to lose themselves in the subtle journey of "If God Cuts You Down" quite nicely. The song moves at a leisurely pace for the most part, which is good, because "Western Wind" makes use of an inebriated, stumbling main riff, like Unsane raised on a steady diet of Crazy Horse, dank bud, and a goodsize portion of "that ol' time religion". Angular riffs latch onto Beechwood Sparks country rock, then the match is struck, rugged tone blasting from ravaged amps as massive rhythms pummel with all the fury of the song's namesake.
Indeed, in some sort of Jim White / Tarnation homage, Across Tundras can find themselves caught in some countrified gospel dirge, only to dive into a cacophonous storm of sound like there's no tomorrow. And there may not be, according to "The Old Sexton". Life can get mighty toilsome on the lone prairie, and Across Tundras knows this well, droned chords phasing out and over, leading into "Ode To George, Parts 1 & 2". Lyrically, this bit of soapboxing isn't so much a condemnation of one party line as a resignation to everything being just a little bit fucked up in the train, no matter who's driving the lead wagon. The huge, mammoth chords of the title track rumble through the air, drums cracking like thunder across AT's beloved plains where waves of sound alternately cascade and crush. Lest we become too lost in reverie, "Cosmic Retribution" bristles with punk fury, channeling noise rock gurus Band Of Susans and Sonic Youth as well as Neil Young's monolithic Arc/Weld set with equal fervour. As holes are blasted in subwoofers, the bottom drops out at 3:02, revisiting the early Unsane-ity of DSOTP just in time to slam on the brakes for a remarkably faithful rendering of the traditional "Aura Lee, Maid Of Golden Hair". It's here, though, that the beauty of the album as a whole is realized, Across Tundras tapping into the Syd Barrettness of the ballad, languid strumming and a harmonica joining a wail of longing to end Dark Songs Of The Prairie.
I'll say no more, and leave you to decide for yourself what Dark Songs Of The Prairie means to you. Across Tundras may have just drunkenly stumbled upon the perfect album for fall, the season when the trees burst into flame and the wind blows a bit colder. A wistful, transient ride more interested in the going than the getting there.