One of my all time favorite CD’s is one that I stole off the soundboard from the church with whom we used to rent space.
The CD was created by a handful of teen age techno prodigies whose self-recorded first album got picked up by a label, and then began touring college campuses prior to graduating high school themselves.
The CD was “High School Confidential” by Tiki Obmar. Chances are you’ve never heard of it. Recorded in drummer Brett Bullion’s basement during their Junior year of high school, it’s a moody, but inspiring glitch-rock project filled with all kinds of beeps and squeaks, fading guitars and ambient keys overlaying rhythmic loops and creatively syncopated live acoustic drums. My interest in the CD moved from novelty to fanboy after catching a live performance of the band at a local hipster club. Most of the time there’s simply is no need to see techno music live. It doesn’t matter how energetic the DJ is, he’s just pointing to the sky while jumping up and donw as he cues up pre-recorded music on his macbook. What made Tiki Obmar’s performance unique (to me) was that the music was played live using real instruments and cleverly supplemented by elements of electronica. The performance was physical and dynamic, like watching the inner movements of pocket watch as the entire band was in a continuous cadence of motion. The drummer played a stripped down drum kit that was integrated with what looked like 50’s era radio shack like devices. If the Borg played jazz, their drums would look like this. While simultaneously playing rhythms and fills on the kit, electronic triggers were set off by striking pads with his drumsticks and by stomping on an array of pedals that lay alongside his kick drum. The bass and electric guitar players pivoted and swayed, often one hand gripping a chord on the neck of their guitars while the other hand fingered a keyboard. Some songs were played while one band member knelt before a Lego set of effect boxes and gadgets, twisting knobs and flipping switches creating the right sounds to transform the cacophony into music. The whole thing was stunningly complex as layers upon layers of live loops were recorded and played back upon one another in an orchestral fusion. Loud and unpredictable, they were never frenzied. Purpose permeated the music, calm permeated the musicians.
After that, High School Confidential was on heavy rotation before and after our church gatherings, much to the confusion of the uninitiated in my congregation for whose minds were still unblown by a live encounter with this music. Unfortunately Tiki Obmar was short lived, after 100 concerts and releasing only two albums, they disbanded around 2005.
However, former Tiki Obmar drummer and driving force, Brett Bullion along with musician Andy Wozniak have recently formed ‘Tarlton.’ Their first release, ‘Evergreen’ being quite a departure from the punctuated complexity of Bullion’s former band. Evergreen is a beautiful, sparse and emotionally melancholic experience. Bullion sings on nearly every track, his soft haunting voice calmly filling the voids left by the simple keyboard and bass song construction. I have a sense that Bullion is doing some sort of inner work through the somber and spacial expression of this project.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to see Brett perform with former Tiki Obmar guitarist Chris Smalley on a bill with some other musicians at an artists co-op. I entered expecting this very low-key, tea sipping, soothing experience. Instead I was greeted with a high volume, distortion laden, sound looping, improvisation experiment that rivaled an angry Sigur Ros and a Radiohead bad trip. It was awesome! This assured me, that Bullion hasn’t stopped pushing the limits of circuits and gadgets, nor as Evergreens prove, will he be confined by them.