Review: Tanakh – Dieu Deuil

Originally published in Delusions of Adequacy June 7, 2004

Dieu Deuil boasts an even dozen contributors on everything from guitar, vocals, drums, keyboards and bass to flute, violin, accordion, hammered dulcimer, bowed glockenspiel and everything in-between.

You’d never know it, though, because the record’s eight tracks, each of them engaging and breathtaking, feel like they were burned straight to disc directly from that wonderful and indefinable space between a musician’s head and their heart.

Yeah, the goddamned thing is just that good.

Those familiar with Tanakh or their last effort, Villa Claustrophobia, may have a string of adjectives lined up and ready to pin down the Alien 8 ensemble but those introduced to the group through Dieu Deuil, a group of which I am a member, simply may be at a loss for words.

Aesthetically and structurally, they could be cousins of the Montreal experimental-rock crowd or Alien 8 labelmates Set Fire To Flames, which seems to favor sonic fluidity, improvisation around themes, and the magic of entangled organic sounds over the familiar patterns of a carefully written chorus.

Musically, however, Tanakh is warmer, more emotionally accessible and more inviting, as well as less likely to display its songwriting techniques in front of its actual songs.

But what does it sound like?

Dieu Deuil, in the most reductive sense, is a strange combination of folk, country landscapes, contemporary rock and psychedelia, without all of the predictable Grateful Dead references that musical cocktail may invite.

They hint at the folksy and textured dream portraits of Dirty Three, with acoustic and electric guitars intertwined around violin and strings that sway between country-twanged bridges and Eastern scales.

They reference the cinematic refrains of Pinetop Seven, with passages that ebb and flow as they evoke the grandeur and dusty passions of the American frontier.

They tap into the tradition of the Tim Buckley troubadour, with emotive measures giving way to the sweet whispers and wails of vocalist (and multi-instrumentalist) Jesse Poe.

They do all of this, though, while somehow keeping the listener engaged to the point where they’re not questioning musical reference points or tracing the trajectory of each note.

The record is also great as a complete package, as a journey between songs and sentiments, and as a developing conversation between the group and the listener. Tanakh has a developed ability — at points on Dieu Deuil, it feels downright instinctive — to draw in and intoxicate the listener through loose, seemingly improvised moments, like the wandering instrumental “The Lord Is In This Place … How Dreadful Is This Place.”

But it follows those moments with more developed pieces, like the somber, semi-acoustic march of “’Til San Francisco.” As such, it’s difficult to cite the record’s best tracks. Do you go with the album-opening ballad “November Tree,” its guitars and violins and harmonized vocals wailing and weeping at just the right moments of every verse and bridge?

Or do you talk about the brilliant “Exegesis,” where the finest moments seem to surface and unfurl less methodically, tucked around refrains that sound as influenced by Spanish flamenco as they are by the warped horizons of psychedelia?

Dieu Deuil closes with “Lock The Door When You Leave,” which seems, if only vaguely, to incorporate pieces of the musical themes expressed in each of its predecessors. It’s a beautiful and fitting reprise of sorts, with Tanakh showing the listener sets of postcards and photographs from the places they’ve taken them over the last hour.

Rather than allow the track to whisper and fade and reminisce, though, the band decides to stick its hooks in you even deeper, and there are bridges that build upon themselves with a kind of intensity you wouldn’t expect and you can’t ignore. While electric guitars and violins skitter around Poe’s plaintive voice, it’s difficult to imagine Tanakh sounding anything but passionately involved with the music they’re crafting.

Lock the door when we leave? Why would we ever want to leave?

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