( limited teal vinyl)The Sonora Pine II remastered reissue 2022
Released 11/11/22 on Husky Pants Records
Fred Thomas writes:
Following the breakup of her sometimes tenuous, sometimes loud-and-thrashy band Rodan, guitarist/vocalist Tara Jane O'Neil regrouped with the Sonora Pine. Filled out by Rodan drummer Kevin Coultas, violin player Samara Lubelski, and June of 44's Sean Meadows, the first set of Sonora Pine material felt like a natural, if slightly softer, continuation of Rodan's dynamic and punk-descendant sound. When Meadows left the band shortly after working on their self-titled 1996 debut, however, the Sonora Pine turned a corner on their 1997 sophomore effort, II. The remaining members soldiered on as a trio, placing O'Neil's textural vocals and impressionistic songwriting style at the forefront of the album and conjuring seven songs of subdued, wavering melancholia. Home-recorded by Coultas on an eight-track recorder, there's a muted quality to even II's most emphatic moments. Tunes like "Cloister" or the stormy "Long Ago Boy" are as driving as the album gets, with dissonant guitar and violin figures pushed forward by roomy drum sounds, everything overlapping in a thick tension that only occasionally dissipates. "Cloister," in particular, serves as a calling card for what the Sonora Pine accomplish on II, with misty guitars and violin bedded by guest organ, flickering between passages of uneasy tension and fleeting resolution. Even more restrained songs like "Weak Kneed" and "Snows Cut Snapshot" tie together a dour lucid dreaming similar to what fellow Louisvillians Slint found on Spiderland combined with the yearning restlessness of the Dirty Three. Instrumental closer "Linda Jo" places bright, Fahey-informed acoustic guitars over a flutter of strings and lap steel swells, gently settling the stir of turbulent, conflicting emotions that preceded it. The song is a joyful finale to an album spent exploring liminal territory. With the exception of this hopeful closing track, II is cloudy, ambiguous, and stuck in the unnamed in-between spaces, like the transition between fall and winter or times when it's unclear if a relationship, friendship, or opportunity has ended or not. It's one of the first and most vivid examples of O'Neil capturing this very specific mood, and though Sonora Pine disbanded not long after II, she would continue refining different embodiments of this sound for decades to come with her always gorgeous solo albums. II was an early breakthrough in this mysterious magic, creating a glimmering world of soft-focus expressions that hung like smoke in the air and disappeared just as quickly.