Tenement – Tenement (EP Stream, Review)
by Steven Spoerl
Between the end of last week and the start of this one, this site hasn’t ran a lot of material. A lot of this is due to some upcoming live coverage and the editing that live coverage entails. As is always the case, though, an eye was kept on the emerging content and everything that registered as great was compiled into a list for future reference. Of those lists, the full streams may have been the most stacked, featuring no less than three year-end contenders, including Tenement, this post’s featured EP. For full-lengths, it’d be hard to do much better than the staggering 1-2 punch of the full-length debuts from site favorites All Dogs (Kicking Every Day) and Dogs On Acid (Dogs On Acid) though that didn’t detract from the great new records that started streaming from Frog Eyes, Willis Earl Beal, Fake Palms, i tried to run away when i was 6, Sea Lion, and Tamaryn. Then, of course, there was the re-release of the extremely limited run self-titled tour tape that was released earlier this year by a band that played a crucial role in the development of this site’s functionality, aim, and preference: Tenement.
Following a pattern that emerged around the time Napalm Dream was released, the band’s been ushering in new music with an impressive recklessness. While this time around the band opted to release a behemoth of a double album in Predatory Headlights, rather than opting for the individual split as they did with Napalm Dream and The Blind Wink, they’ve still got material to spare. After kicking this year off with their outstanding early career compilation Bruised Music, Volume 1 (a collection I had the distinct privilege of contributing a piece to for the zine insert that served as the record’s liner notes), they’re restlessly pushing forward with an appropriately ragged five-song collection that they recorded back in February. As mentioned earlier, the tape was held to a run of between 50-60 copies and only made available for their tour with Priests and Vacation.
Tenement’s always been characterized by their steadfast adherence to a DIY ethos but that aspect of their identity has never been so fully reflected by any of their releases than it is here, which is likely why the band opted to make it a self-titled. As the collection plays out, there’s a very real sense that these songs were crafted in a manner where the band felt unburdened by any lingering expectations. Of course, it’s still a Tenement record so the level of songwriting is exceedingly impressive and more than a little indicative of what makes the band one of today’s absolute best.
In a sense (or a few, rather), Tenement‘s actually more attuned to the sensibilities of guitarist/vocalist Amos Pitsch’s Dusk side project. The playing- and feel- from song to song is a lot more loose than Tenement songs tend to wind up being upon their official release and carry on with an easygoing naturalism that renders Tenement an endlessly listenable EP that’s as perfectly suited for open roads as it is a quiet night in. Curiously, all the songs are also titled after a line from the respective choruses or refrains, which is something the band’s generally avoided in the past, which also seems to solidify the fact that this is one of the most direct releases the band’s ever issued. While Pitsch still writes with the flair of a classic Americana novelist, he’s substituted a lot of his more obtuse looks with an emphasis on his lyrics’ more earnest aspects and it suits these songs to perfection. Bassist Jesse Ponkamo and drummer Eric Mayer, as ever, continue to prove their worth as one of today’s most valuable rhythm sections, keeping these songs grounded while still managing to lend them a widescreen appeal, some light menace, a wide-eyed sense of wonder, or an air of gritty determination.
Taken as a whole, Tenement is one of the more unexpected entries in the band’s catalog but it also may be its most quietly rewarding. Favoring understatement over exhilarating moments of power almost exclusively throughout its sub-14 minute run time, Tenement puts a microscope up to one of the band’s more under-utilized modes and results in an unlikely, willing EP that seemed fated to drop off into obscurity just a few short weeks ago. Thankfully, that’s not the case and now anyone who cares has access to “Everyone To Love You”, “Underworld Hotel”, “Witches In A Ritual”, “The Strangest Couple In Love”, and “Roads To Home”. Easily one of the band’s more enigmatic moments, Tenement‘s also one of 2015’s finest releases. Now that it’s finally here, don’t let this one fade into a footnote; turn it up and hit repeat when it’s done.
Listen to Tenement below and pray that it eventually gets repressed in some format. In the meantime, revisit the rest of the band’s unbelievable discography at their bandcamp and watch this site’s own collection of live Tenement videos below the stream.