The predominant flavor on Tulula!’s impressive new record Singing Songs in the Dark is, in fact, darkness: a rainbow, a harvested cornucopia of dark. You hear it in Jason Broome’s lyrics – gritty, visceral street poetry cut with a surreal mysticism somewhere between the Beats and Blake and sung, often, in the inherently portentous, hooded harmony of the octave. You hear it in the grinding and groovy dark psychedelia of the ensemble, with hints of spy rock and Balkan menace, gobs of wrenched, fuzzed-out guitar contained in epic forms that make you feel like you have lost not just your way home, but your home itself. It is played in that ungenerous dry instrumental vernacular derived, ultimately, from the Velvet Underground (the banana and White Light/White Heat are both touchstones), but with many stops along the psychedelic train between there and here.
But the secret weapons of Singing Songs in the Dark are sweetness, prettiness, patches of sunny jangle; a spitting, sardonic persona who is willing and able to see silver linings and to show his wounds. It is a strategy of darkness offset, smart and effective. On this ambitious record, Tulula! aimed to bottle much of what makes them a divisive, contentious live band, and they nailed it. Theirs is, quite often, an aesthetic of dis-ease, lost coordinates and moorings, unreliable guides. What make Singing Songs in the Dark prevail as a recording are its intelligence of design, its implicit understanding of what the studio requires: storytelling, hand-holding, shipbuilding.
Its mode is epic and freakout. Singing Songs in the Dark begins with “Alimony,” a thematically complex kind of dark psychedelic trip, the lyrics of which move without a blink from acrimonious romance to strangely sensuous theology (in which Jesus bleeds “like a stuck pig”). It feels weightier and longer than its 4:30 suggests, whereas the seven minutes of the mean, boss little street tune called “Kurt’s Telephone” pass much more quickly than you’d expect.
This band gets way out there, demonstrating once again that the difference between “experimental” and “jam” is semiotic more than musical. The sweetness here is genuine, too, signified in the wheezy/chunky cover of the Magnetic Fields gem “All My Little Words,” but deployed to greatest effect as intra-song relief in the sometimes-grim texture of Broome’s songs and his take generally. Suffice it to say that Singing Songs in the Dark is probably very unlike whatever you are listening to right now.
Tulula! – Jason Broome, Daniel Weintraub, Rob Norris, Chris Bradley and Marianne Tasick – celebrate the release of Singing Songs in the Dark with a show at BSP in Kingston on May 5 at 7:30 p.m. It’s a super-stacked bill featuring Pat Irwin’s (the Raybeats) new project Pi Power Trio and Bar/None Records founder Glenn Morrow’s band Glenn Morrow’s Cry for Help. Tickets cost $10 at the door. BSP is located at 323 Wall Street in Kingston. To check out Singing Songs in the Dark for yourself, visit https://tulula.bandcamp.com.