More reviews – TBASA, The Shaggs

TBASA/4 Track Limitations or Demos For a Band I Will Never Form

In high school I used to record on a TASCAM 424mkII that recorded on two sides of a tape at the same time at double speed (so a special “30 minute cassette” would yield 7:30 of audio) learning rudimentary audio engineering in the process.

On his bandcamp Tim notes that he recorded this using “the four track process,” bouncing four tracks down to two tracks then repeating. I am not sure how exactly he recorded it, but I don’t hear tape hiss, and while I remember bouncing three tracks down to one track I actually don’t remember being able to bounce four down to two on a Portastudio. If that is or was possible seventeen year old me would be very excited to hear how to do that.

While the not-as-lo-fi 4 Track Limitations may not be Vampire On Titus or even Nebraska (which I mentioned in my previous blog post reviewing Taylor Swift’s new record), the particular lo-fi sound here, along with the current nature of the songs, which my old pal Tim is very connected to, and the HOOKS, are among Tim’s best work. He is able to support BLM and take on conspiracy theorists and Covid deniers much more effectively because he has the HOOKS in place. “Mercy Mercy Me” would be just another song about the environment . . . except that Marvin, like Tim, gave it HOOKS. And we’re talking all caps, bold, and italics.

In addition to the timeliness of the tunes, 4 Track Limitations brings together some of my favorite TBASAisms from his vast catalogue. We have the catchiness of Tim’s poppier Don’t Say Sucks along with the bareness of my favorite Brevity Is Its Hallmark, along with the hard-to-describe TBASA sauce that can be found in his various Hitchcock-movie-name-themed bands of the past.

If I had to criticize something about this record, it would be the same thing I always criticize about EPs – the fact that it’s an EP. It’s good to leave the listener wanting more, but sometimes when I eat a personal pan pizza, as much as it is a good thing that I find myself wanting more, that still doesn’t make me feel any better about the fact that I’m out of pizza and I would still like to be eating pizza.

The Shaggs/Philosophy of the World

Many people listen to the Shaggs for a laugh. Others find some sort of brilliance in their “so bad it’s good”-ness. I can’t really fault anyone for their own personal reason for listening to or not listening to the Shaggs.

What I will say is that one’s ears need to become acclimated to the Shaggs in order to appreciate the album. Traditional expectations about rhythm and tuned instruments need to go out the window. If you are expecting to hear a guitarist and a drummer sound like they are playing the same song at the same time, you will be very let down by the Shaggs.

While the Wiggin sisters were apparently not even interested in being in a band or making the record, Philosophy of the World gets points for sounding like nothing else. Two out of tune guitars, drums completely out of sync with the guitars, and unusual unison singing make for an album that is both compelling and more abrasive and punk rock than punk rock itself.

While the album is almost universally off-beat and out-of-tune, there is some variety here, including the triumphant out-of-tune chords of “My Pal Foot Foot” and the straightforward charm of “Things I Think About.”

There is one notable point on the album, at the very beginning of the song “Why Do I Feel?” where the two guitars and drums are in sync and an actual groove emerges before the tempo abruptly changes and the rest of the song sounds like the rest of the album. I mention this because it is one of the more curious things about the album.

As a music teacher, it is also pretty endearing hearing the familiar sound of beginners almost succeeding at creating music. At that one particular point there’s that triumphant sound of them actually working as an ensemble.

There are a number of reasons I would recommend listening to the Shaggs. In a rut? All music sounding the same? Tired of hearing perfectly polished pop music all around you? Want to really give your ears a “reset” by listening to an album that throws out traditional concepts like rhythm and intonation?

It is hard to grade this album because it is so different than anything else under the umbrella of music, be it Black Sabbath or Bach, that it would be hard to use the same measuring stick one would use for other music. I don’t grade TBASA’s albums because I was in a band with him, so I guess I don’t need to grade the Shaggs either.

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