Edward Ka-Spel - Tanith & the Lion Tree [Cold Spring Records - 2012]
Starting with the beginning of the band in the early 80's, Legendary Pink Dots front man Edward Ka-Spel released a string of solo albums in parallel to the Pink Dots' already prolific output. "Tanith and the Lion Tree", in 1991, was the 8th of these, and the first release not to the contain the words "China Doll" in its title. This Cold Spring re-issue came out last year in 2012.
Without the other members of the Pink Dots to fill out the sound, the music is quite naked, raw and awkward. Cheap sounding synths, grainy samplers and cardboardy drum machines in rigid, short loops are at the fore, and as with much of Ka-Spel's output there is a sort of macabre circus vibe. There is little of the larger than life epic feeling that many Pink Dots albums have, that sense that each lyric is a piece of a puzzle much larger than the length of any album. Instead, this is more of an isolated, introspective work, with fewer political implications and more cryptic, surrealist statements. Ka-Spel has always excelled at singing the part of the shy guy, so this fits.
It's an album with many (17) tracks, but few of what most people would call 'songs', as many of the tracks are impromptu experiments with noise and loops. The songs there are could be considered gothic ballads, centering around Ka-Spel's vocals and repeating minor key synth leads. Highlights are the emotive "Prisoners of War", title track "Tanith and the Lion Tree", which contains the particularly delicious phrase "She fed the lion candy so its teeth turned pink and scattered", and "Hotel X", which interestingly enough contains the title phrase of 1986's Tear Garden album "Tired Eyes Slowly Burning".
There are 3 bonus tracks, firstly '2012' renditions of both "Prisoners of War", found on this album, and "Don't Look 'Till It's Gone", a song originally found on the album "Travelogue" by Dark Star, another of Ka-Spel's many projects, which came out around the same time as "Tanith". As a fan of this song and the Dark Star album, I was pleasantly surprised to hear this subdued, extended rework. The 2012 version of "Prisoners of War" has a great cleaner vocal take (the original version is very distorted) which I appreciate, but the production on the synths feels messy, and the track drones on for 3 minutes longer than the original, to seemingly no point, as the lyrics end at the same point in the song as they originally did. The final bonus track is "Loop 3", a meandering ambient tape loop piece with vague military themes. These bonus tracks are pleasant enough, but not essential listens.
Unfortunately, this re-issue has some distracting problems. First of all, though the album's liner notes do not state that it has been remastered, it has been, judging by the drastically increased sound levels by comparison to the original CD, and the generally different sounding EQ. In many places it sounds good and the clarity has notably increased from the original, however the album has been mastered far too loud, to the point of audible crackle and distortion in many places, and a general claustrophic sense of overcompression, including that familiar and oh-so-artifical 'pumping' sound, which is at odds with the raw sound of the analog gear the album was recorded on. In all fairness, the production of the original album was terrible, but this was a missed chance to correct this flaw.
Adding to the annoyance, the ambient interludes like "Interference", "Loop 1" and "Loop 2" have been inexplicably left near their original extremely faint levels. In order to hear any of the textural subtley of these tracks, one must turn the volume knob up to the point that the following tracks will blast them out of their chair when they inevitably come on. I seriously wonder if anyone tried listening to the entire album in one go before putting this CD out? I find it hard to believe they would not have to adjust the volume knob. It's a shame, since the album is clearly designed to flow as a complete experience, with sounds from the edge of each track continuing into the next.
In conclusion, this flawed re-issue is still the best version of this disk available. However, I would not rank "Tanith and the Lion Tree" among my favorites in the Pink Dots' / Ka-Spel's discography, even were a perfectly remastered edition of the album to surface. I'm a huge LPD fan, but I must recommend listeners direct themselves to "Any Day Now" or "The Crushed Velvet Apocalypse" before this tracking down this morbid curiosity of an album.Josh Landry