Marmoset / Tea Tornado
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Indianapolis indie rockers Marmoset are the relative you don’t mind having visit for the weekend. They come in softly, warm up the room with fuzzy and familiar vibes, give you a few micro-memories, then move on before you tire of them. Tea Tornado, the trio’s fourth proper full-length release of their 14-year existence, is a return to the glory of their first two records, almost as if 2007’s sometimes frustrating and confusing Florist Fired never happened. The songs are again retro and brief, coming off like a slacker/garage version of a Wire/Swell Maps supergroup.
Unlike Guided by Voices, who also made short, Brit rock-influenced indie pop, Marmoset craft their songs carefully, using the most of the two or so minutes their songs average in runtime. The devout 60s vibe of Record In Red (the band’s signature album) isn’t as important here as it once was to the group before 2009. They lean on the past carefully, presenting their own timeless cool, which is to say that they’re not too cool to make instantly hummable pop songs, but are cool enough to make sure everything they do is anything but ordinary. Similar to Wire or even a Spoon record like Kill the Moonlight, Jorma Whittaker, Dave Jablonski and Jason Cavan take perhaps one of the most difficult approaches to pop music over Tea Tornado’s 14 tracks, using minimalist songs that always surprise with their strange yet simple ideas. It’s the kind of record that leaves similar sounding musicians scratching their heads, asking, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
All accessibility and cleverness already noted, it’s important to mention that these songs, many of them mini masterpieces, do reward listeners who take the time to get to know them. Singer Jorma Whittaker’s vocals, though anything but off-putting, take time to fully appreciate. To say that his performances are nuanced is an understatement. (If you do find yourself falling for the guy, be sure to check out his excellent 2003 solo record.)
The moment Tea Tornado begins, with the instantly poppy opener “Written Today,” fanzine types will have the urge to point out the references, starting with Syd Barrett and ending with early-era Yo La Tengo. People will likely use the word “slacker,” due to Whittaker’s lackadaisical vocals and will surely make note of the British Invasion vibe and 90s Matador Records guitar jangle. But this is Marmoset, the band that quietly made two of the best indie rock albums that almost no one knows (speaking here of 2001’s Record In Red and their 1999 debut, Today It’s You). Add Tea Tornado, the band’s most consistent work yet, to that list of under-appreciated classics. Rarely has a minimalist band found so many ways to get beneath the art star skin, Tornado’s trick being its ability – in a lean, mean way – to sound both timeless and new.