ALBUM REVIEW: TV Sets – Rat Tar Art (2014)

coverBy Ryan Smith

As much as I’m a slave to glossy studio production, I am occasionally able to venture into more humble realms. Though I am a devout Eno disciple, I do still have the ability to recognise beauty in lo-fi art pieces. Indeed, some of my favourite music is quite raw. With some groups, as long as the ability and the spirit is there, the integrity of said art refuses to be marred by quality of recording. Enter Toronto’s very own TV Sets.

Formed earlier this year by two artists who heard each other’s music through the paper-thin walls of their living situation, TV Sets have taken up a dream pop/shoegaze style and have opted to augment it with rugged lo-fi recording techniques. Appearing like a mousey murmur amidst a jungle of would-be performers and show-offs, the duo have put together their debut release, a very interesting and very short EP called Rat Tar Art.

At not even ten minutes in length, Rat Tar Art plays out more like a single than an EP, but it is quite an engaging experience nonetheless. The opening track, “Just As Well,” begins with a bit of choppy percussion that leads into a straight-forward grunge riff. The distorted male vocals follow the melody set down by the guitar and are eventually accompanied by female backup. While this isn’t the most revolutionary of tunes, it serves as a decent enough primer for what is to come. The droning baritone vocals remind me strongly of Syd Barrett and Brian Eno.

The second tune, “Trout,” is a nifty bit of lo-fi charm. Clicks, caused presumably by fiddling around with the mic, form the track’s initial percussion. A sharp bassline is complimented by an atmospheric guitar part, paving the way for some really great, reverb soaked vocals. This time the melody is a great deal more impressive. I am once again reminded of Eno and Barrett. The song explodes around the minute thirty mark, with the guitar and the bass metamorphosing beautifully into something quite powerful, but never carried away. The air of subtlety is artfully preserved.

TV Sets.

TV Sets.

Up next is my favourite song on the record. “Falling Awake” reminds me of when the poets and artists managed to slip atmospheric mellow into the nihilistic darkness of the early nineties. A very pleasing melody is shared by lovely male and female vocals and it is here where the lo-fi of the record really shines. Somehow, it helps to capture some of the magic that went into creating an intimate tune like this one. The lead guitar work is fantastic, and the rhythm section provides the barest essentials for a dreamy kind of urgency. “Falling Awake” draws goosebumps every time I listen.

The album finishes with a very brief rolling instrumental oddity. A trippy, lumbering bit of melodic noise, “SLEEPPEELS” seems a bit pointless at first, but it actually does its job very well, and that job is, I assume, to leave us wanting more… to segue into future releases perhaps? Like all of the short tracks on the Rat Tar Art EP, the final one allows us but a glimpse of what TV Sets has to offer. In this way, the album is very much like a first date. Coffee, light conversation (what’s your favourite colour?), and a short peek into someone else’s world.

Rat Tar Art is most definitely not the most organised, well-produced, lucid album ever released, and it does come across as a bit kitschy, but I assure you this all adds to the record’s charm. For instance, when one listens to the bits of lunacy that Syd Barrett recorded toward the end of his career, one can very easily call them clunky and kitschy. One can also hear a great many feelings and passions in those flaws that might have been covered up had the tracks been polished to perfection. It is the same with TV Sets, and it is a hell of a thing, let me tell you, to be able to create a piece of art the flaws of which are its charming focal point.

Love it or leave it, Rat Tar Art is honest and fragile, and that, I assure you, is hard to find in an industry where everyone’s trying to get noticed by being the biggest, the loudest, and the best. Keep an eye on TV Sets, I have a feeling what comes next might be something even more remarkable. You can check out Rat Tar Art via the band’s Bandcamp page,!

RYAN SMITH spends a great deal of his time under troll bridges shaking his fist and hollering obscenities at the mainstream, but occasionally finds himself on the side of a pop act that the underground has disowned. A schizoid fan for the 21st century? Although he has a diverse musical taste that runs the gamut from black metal to country to most forms of jazz, Ryan’s first love will always be progressive music.


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