A band that dates all the way back to the glory days of Homestead Records, Antietam has been around forever. In fact, the line-up of frontwoman Tara Key, her bassist husband Tim Harris, and drummer Josh Madell has been steady for 20 years now. And lo and behold, this eighth studio album is packed with tight, smart, gritty, no-bullshit indie rock. Think of Versus, Silkworm, certain Yo La Tengo, and recent Mission of Burma. Bristling and chaotic on one hand while coolly assured on the other, Antietam sounds as good as ever, if not better.
The first thing you’ll notice, as “Numbered Days” gets off to a burly start, is Key’s well-worn, quavering voice and masterfully stormy guitar. That’s definitely the entry point for this band, but beyond that are earthy textures, low-key extras like cello and flute, and lovely instrumental digressions. The songs are sturdy and bullish and yet often go searching in new directions right in the middle of things. The aptly titled instrumental “Clarion” nails that quality, with arcing solos and twang too. By now Key knows just how to locate the emotional centre of a song without diminishing its impact, as heard on “Better Man” and “Basra Bound”. She also dispenses tidy zingers like “Vesuvius has nothing on me now” and “It’s just history that makes you want to stay.”
A compact follow-up to 2008’s ambitious double album Opus Mixtum, Tenth Life is at once a continuation of the classic first-generation indie rock sound at its core – just an amazing guitar record. Check it out for either reason and relish both.