Sunday, August 15, 2004


Homestead Records (HMS 025), 1985

Antietam ca. 1985 (photo by Jim DeRogatis)

Antietam's first LP is an uneven introduction to the band that would eventually conquer Hoboken's (which, at least in the mid-80's means the U.S.A.'s) indie-pop scene with later LPs Music From Elba and Burgoo. Although there are some clunkers in themselves, some of the otherwise excellent songs ("Shively Spleen" "Ready, Swing") are either marred by a drummer who stumbles over the beat or some (purposely, perhaps, but annoying nevertheless) off-key vocals.

Like a plan by Hannibal, though, some of the tracks miraculously come together -- portending future greatness and showcasing librarian-by-day rock-goddess-by-night Tara Key's more than mission-capable guitar talents. With the two bass set-up and no second guitar, you can see her building up her capability to shift seamlessly between lead and rhythm quite well, thank you, and preparing for the day the other bass would go away.

Tim Harris (Mr. Tara Key), who along with Ms. Key remains in Antietam to this day, shares the bass line with Wolf Knapp in most songs but it's hard to find anything really distinct about this - ala, say Dos, -- they seem to be playing the same bass line (or maybe my stereo's just not that good). Comparisons to R.E.M. have been made but there's also a distinctly good chance Ms. Key was listening to Burma records as well -- as we can tell from "Orange Song" (best song of this LP and later covered by their pals and future collaborators Yo La Tengo)... and we're going to redeem young Mr. Weinert, the aforementioned drummer, by giving special praise to his oddly-metered song (co-written with Tim Harris) "Red, Black and Blue". I like how the vocals shift along with the rhythm and the rhythms correspondingly showcase Key's angular playing.

And, furthermore, therefore and whatfor, I wanna mention X before I'ma mentionin' R.E.M., lesser thinkers be damned, - I mean, maybe I'm dumb but I can't find anything that pays as much tribute to Exena-Doe's vocal gymanstics as "New Song" - sure you can say "Shively Spleen"'s guitar-with-bass-lead does this to REM but I also think of Joy Division, so, as they say in Key's homestate, THAR. Suffice to say in Antietam (the album) we are hearing band that is, at least embryonically, coming to terms with their own unique sound and maybe we should be comparing later R.E.M. to Antietam rather than vice versa.

For the Tara Key aficionados, I'd suggest you also check out the more experimental instrumentals ("Gospel According to John B" in partic.) that appear here - as more clear evidence of what break-out she was ...

This album is unjustly out of print and hard to find as is, even more unjustly, Elba and Burgoo. A box set or at least a compendium that puts together the better tracks is in order, doncha think? The band does have some recent material which I suggest you check out-- see Carrotop below.

My copy, alas, is marred by significant surface noise on the second side ('m givin' it a G, as a result). This is a bit of an attestment to the length of time it spent on my turntable, I guess. I'll probably clean it up later when I learn how to use Dart Pro and Goldwave (my new toys) a little better.

Orange Song
Red, Black and Blue

Antietam's Carrottop web page
Band endorsed fan website
0 Tara Key says she's proudest of this interview in Guitar Player mag
VH1 (AMG) History of

(as stated previously, tracks are offered temporarily, in accordance with fair use and to encourage discussion and scholarship on the subjects in a salon-type fashion. Readers who like said tracks are encouraged to bang down record company's doors to get this stuff back into circulation and to buy or at least investigate, if available, the artist's current repitoire. If the copyright holder objects to these tracks being made available, even in their shoddy recorded from vinyl compressed audio version, the author of this website would be more than happy to accomodate their wishes, bow at their feet and lick the crumbles of brie off their lawyer's wingtips while not admitting guilt or anything else).


Jason said...

wow, I really like this. This band is going on my need to find list.

Jim H said...

Their newer stuff which is available in Realplayer format on the Carrot Top website is much more mellower and gentler -- and I like it the way she uses her rhythm guitar to build up tension, I still like their older stuff partic. the two albums that came after this - side 2 of Elba is one of the high points of their output, perhaps THE high point. Burgoo saw them a bit more imbedded in the Hoboken sound - not saying that's a bd thing but it sorta buries the southern influence.

Saw 'em live once in the '80s and they were quite incredible so its strange that the live album has gotten poor grades (haven't heard it, myself) - perhaps the visual of Tara (who's not very tall) bouncing around and creating the most insane sounds of her guitar was part of the attraction of the show. Anway, I ramble - the point is that if you can find Elba or Burgoo, which came out on CD, that might be a good starting point.