When I picked up Tartufi's latest CD, Us Upon Buildings Upon Us, I pointed out to my editor that when a band's press release calls their music "experimental rock," it's usually code for "we haven't learned to play our instruments yet." Most experimental rock hits my ears like cats being strangled, but I decided to take a flyer on Tartufi.
Fortunately for me, Tartufi knows what they're doing. Though the vocals alternate between reedy and nasal, the music more than makes up for it. The San Francisco duo uses complex song structures to build what can only be described as sonic collages, employing unusual instrumentation and dynamic shifts to achieve a rolling-river feel to the songs. Each song on the disc takes its time in establishing the mood (there's only one song under five minutes), and there's a sense of continuity between the songs.
Even better, the individual songs are strong examples of craftsmanship. None of them fall down on the job, but the best song is the closer, "Until the Ocean Swallows Stars." An evocative sonic landscape, the song manages to live up to the mood implied in its title beautifully. "Mourning's Wake" is another strong entry; over the course of nearly eight and a half minutes, the lonely vocals and sludgy guitars swirl in and out, creating a mournful ambience.
Overall, Us Upon Buildings Upon Us is a success, although fans of more linear and traditional song cycles may not love it. You might not be able to dance to it, but you'll enjoy it nonetheless.