Ghetto Beats on the Surface of the Sun

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In its present CD incarnation, Tarentel's Ghetto Beats from the Surface of the Sun is a double CD in a double gatefold package with gorgeous artwork released on the venerable Temporary Residence imprint. It was originally a four-LP set on the Music Fellowship label. Those familiar with Tarentel -- whose discography is as sprawling as their sound -- will find some irony in the title of this set. The mysterious quartet that has evolved from ghostly ambient soundscapes in its early days toward a more post-rock experimentation lab in its latter days has never been really associated with "beats" of any kind. Nonetheless, a visit to their website's MP3 section confirms that rhythm has become a central element in the band's live sonic architecture, and the sound of tom-toms, the occasional cymbal, and even a snare pop or two have wormed their way in -- for now. Other elements such as guitars and keyboards, played rather unconventionally, remain similar, but even here the instruments contribute more actual form than function (the inverse was true on their earliest records). That said, this two-plus-hour collection has little to do with "ghetto" beats -- at least as they are currently, and perhaps prejudicially, understood in the 21st century. Nonetheless, this is a sprawling set that does indeed focus -- with a few exceptions -- on rhythm. Sometimes that pulse comes from guitars and basses whose volume controls make the instrument seem to breathe with a regularity that appears to have a sense of "time." At others, the drums create a much more conventional sense of movement. One can use This Heat as a reference point on some of this, on some of it No-Neck Blues Band and even 23 Skidoo's The Culling Is Coming, and at still others the reckless meanderings of Faust. If one really needs a reference point for quality, it's as necessary, wild, and compulsive a listen as the Double Leopards' Halve Maen. But it all has the controlled chaotic feel of Tarentel at their most adventurous. Cuts range from a little over a minute in length, which feel like fully realized pieces, whereas some that are in the 17-minute range have the appearance of sketches or even preludes to other works that may not exist yet. It's all wildly creative, however, and can become addictive listening. When taken as a whole, Ghetto Beats is akin to putting something in the deck, hitting go, and wondering just what the hell is coming out because it's changing all the time yet evolves so slowly that one is never quite jarred to the point of being ejected from the intoxicating ether of its tiny yet sprawling universe -- the point of which is that one might either be exhausted halfway through one disc, or need to play both over again immediately. It's that wonderfully unpredictable, and therefore necessary for anybody interested in something truly new and different.

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