Listening to the spry slither of Tara Jane O’Neil’s sophomore solo record, In the Sun Lines, a memory replays in blurry, rattling filmstrip fashion with each swelling-yellow guitar undulation. O’Neil is sitting across from me on a concrete step, squinting, blushing, distracted and trying to explain the physical and emotional similarities between writhing in pain and writhing in love. Embarrassed by her thoughts, she half-shrieks and quickly retracts them. The comments didn’t necessarily fit within the story for which I was interviewing her — a profile of Retsin, a band she shares with partner Cynthia Nelson — but they sure come in handy while attempting to grasp what she might be communicating in Sun Lines.
This is music for lazy mornings and elaborate stomachache brunches that take three times as long to prepare as they do to eat, patient and Southern-syrup slow: drip, drip.
Both her painting and sonic art capture and celebrate a sense of physical imperfection or reality, whether it’s a lopsided feminine form or a sweet, clumsy melody stretching for the sunlight. The dust bunnies are left free to hop amid the brooding drone nausea. Her art represents humanity at its most natural state with a strong survival instinct, but also comfortable contemplation, casually twisting and untwisting complexities like splintered sections of unwashed hair.
Less folk-songy than Retsin, less rock-songy than Rodan and just plain less-songy than her solo debut (Peregrine), In the Sun Lines resembles most the loose structure of the Sonora Pine, another of her many bands, but with more delicacy and a certain polished prettiness — perhaps because of all the string work.
Sun Lines appears sparse at first, but like many great recordings countless riches appear with each spin. The spontaneity of it alludes to free improvisation at times, but for the most part, there’s a sense of composed structure, or a kind of “process rock” where finger slips and unexpected string squeaks add to the relaxed earthiness of the tone. The production resembles sculpting. Perhaps a rigid accordion strain is papier-mâchéd to a bubble of sustained piano notes, violin squawks and hand-looped guitar atmospherics.
“In This Rough” might be this year’s most beautiful sound collage. It gently wakes you as sunlight breaks through the window, reflecting dust specks in its wake, piercing through worn wooden floor planks. As you hide under the covers, “shattering” in the ray of warmth and “lying in the spaces between time,” you hear: “Now I do believe/I will take the earth into myself/I will eat the acorns and ashes and whatever else I find.”
A dull pain pinched by sharpness often makes way for revelation. Here and there, you’ll have a second where you feel OK, but then the pain comes back. What else could be closer to love? You might not be able to touch — or even comprehend — what O’Neil feels, but you can sure tell she feels something.
Tara Jane O’Neil performs Friday, Nov. 2 at detroit contemporary.
Melissa Giannini is the Metro Times staff music writer. E-mail her at [email protected].