As a rule, any kind of promo that is accompanied by a color press photo, a printed (not Xeroxed) one-sheet and press clippings, already has two strikes against it. I don't know if I've ever received a "press packet" with a really good album. So when Tarantula's self-released debut album showed up in my mailbox with all of the above-mentioned materials, the skepticism alarms were wailing. I imagine any band called Tarantula to be closer to metal than classical, but as is sometimes the case, I was dead wrong.
Tarantula are a New York-based quartet centered around a talented two-person string section. Cellist Danny Bensi and violinist Jamie Reeder are the ring bearers here. While bassist Saunder Jurriaans and drummer Gregory Rogove make their contributions, Tarantula are nothing without Bensi and Reeder. This is classical chamber music, folks. And not in the way you think. Someone mentioned that this is reminiscent of 1920s France and 1930s Hungary; this comparison is dead on. As soon as the opening track, "Rail," begins, I feel transported to Budapest, walking the street that lines the Danube. It's cold and a gentle snow is falling. Pulling my collar up in a feeble attempt to keep warm, I am being followed. Tarantula is so authentic that I am in the above situation every time I close my eyes. This is brilliant stuff. Rogove also shows his chops on the glockenspiel, which is the perfect, subtle addition to the dramatic dance Reeder and Bensi are choreographing. As the notes ascend toward heaven, it's almost too much to take. These coals are red hot. This puppy is intense.
Props to any band who puts a track called "Opening Theme" at position four in the album sequence. Even if it makes no logical sense, there's something kind of funny about it. It even sounds like the opening theme of some classic Russian ballet. Soft and smooth electric guitar tones glide in from the start like a ballerina opening her dance with a delicate pirouette. Rogove is an excellent drummer, and the webs of sound constructed by the violin and cello would fall apart without his guidance. He is their rock. He keeps everything grounded so Bensi and Reeder can just go off. There are examples of this all over this release. On "Opening Theme," as the song comes to an end, it is Rogove leading the charge while the strings urge him to the forefront. He's good. Damn good. Jurriaans gets into the act, too, on Spanish-tinged "Palo Borracho." In the last minute of the song, he just starts beating his acoustic guitar to shreds. As if to not be upstaged, though, Reeder and Bensi push back and show off how talented they really are. This is the finest moment on the album, and I couldn't imagine a better way to end it.
I honestly can't imagine why a band that sounds like this would go with the name Tarantula. Don't get me wrong, it sounds nice and all (I was in a band called Hovering Ketchup, so maybe I have no room to talk), but the metal overtones are too much. I can't imagine I'm the only one who got this in the mail and immediately thought the same thing. But maybe that's just it; maybe Tarantula thrive on adversity. They want to set their listeners up to be totally floored by how lame their CD is going to be, and then just blow them out of the fucking water with this beautiful orchestral achievement. It got to me, and I'm as cynical as they come.
I have one huge complaint about this album, though. There's not enough of it. I want more. Five songs of this quality is the ultimate tease from a band that must have theatre backgrounds. There's no other way to explain their grasp of using drama as a driving force in their music. From the sideshow theatrics of "Backdoor Carni" to the flamenco hints of "Palo Borracho," this is class. The only advice I'd have for Tarantula is to lose the ancillary marketing garb that is being sent out with this CD. You don't need it, not by any stretch of the imagination. Music should speak for itself, and this self-titled debut screams. 8/10 -- Brad Rose (25 May, 2005)