Tsar’s new release “The Dark Stuff” is a seductively catchy, darkly funny (just look at that sheep’s head on the cover!), and very addictive 5-track EP. It’s a comeback of sorts after a few years absence for this LA-based band, made up of Jeff Whalen on vocals and guitar, Dan Kern on guitar and vocals, Jeff Solomon on bass, and Steve Coulter on drums.
A strong 1960’s-vibe runs all the way through “The Dark Stuff” and is especially noticeable in the sleek, ear-pleasing vocal harmonies and melodies (and the hand-clapping!). Underneath that, there’s a rougher, subversive undertow to the music with some great bass and guitar bristling through everywhere. This tight-knit blend of smooth and rough pulled over some wickedly sharp and often funny lyrics, tweaks Tsar’s sound just slightly off-kilter (in the best way) and gives the band real personality.
The 60s-feel is all over the EP’s first track “Punctual Alcoholic”: in the melody, in the stripped down bass- and guitar-sound, in the tight drumming, and the shiny vocals. It’s damn catchy with that pop-rocking happiness putting some gloss on the crooked smile in the lyrics. “Police Station” shows off the band’s more rocking side with a beat that just grabs you, pulls you in, and takes you along for the ride. It’s a fantastic tune and my favorite on an EP stuffed with goodness.
Changing things up, “Little Women” is a slower, trippier track, while “White Lipstick” has a rougher, dirtier edge with some great crashing drums and rowdy guitars. Final track “Something Bad Happened” is a skillful blend of pop and rock that is melancholy and infectious at the same time. The chorus is a deliciously hooky slice of perfection, with the guitar-work providing some nice bite.
This EP is Tsar’s third release. The band debuted in 1998 to great reviews, and then sort of faded, partly it seems because the music industry didn’t quite know what to make of them or do with them. Whatever the reason for their absence, these guys obviously have talent to burn, and burn it they do on this EP. If you haven’t heard of them before (I hadn’t) then do yourself a favor and check out “The Dark Stuff”.