Given that Cave Vaults on the Moon in New Mexico was released by Sweden’s venerable Labrador Records (home of The Radio Dept., Club 8, The Mary Onettes, and Acid House Kings, among others), it’s reasonable to assume that Tan Cologne’s debut album is full of effortlessly catchy indie-pop, winsome hooks and harmonies, and exquisite arrangements.
Reasonable, but incorrect.
Inspired by Cave Vaults of the Moon — a collection of ambient pieces composed by Joanne Forman to soundtrack a 1987 sculpture exhibit about alien civilizations — as well as their native New Mexico’s landscape, Lauren Green and Marissa Macias have crafted a psych-pop album that conjures up its own otherworldly locales. The album’s eight songs drift across the listener like winds across bleached dunes and shimmer like desert mirages thanks to the duo’s reverbed guitars, languid percussion, and hazy vocals.
Musically speaking, I was initially reminded of Damien Jurado and Richard Swift’s psychedelic explorations on albums like Maraqopa and Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son. There’s a similar sonic otherness here, as Tan Cologne’s rich atmospherics play with one’s sense of time and space in a manner that’s both expansive and intimate. At the same time, “Empty Vessels” has a shaggy groove that conjures up The Verve’s earliest psychedelic explorations, shades of Starflyer 59 lurk in “Alien“ ‘s reverb-soaked riffs, and there’s even a Mazzy Star-like dreaminess and cadence to “Cerro.”
I imagine Green and Macias composing Cave Vaults on the Moon in New Mexico after many long, meandering journeys through the New Mexico desert, allowing the landscape and local mythology (e.g., the Taos Hum) to shape their songs on a subconscious level. But truth be told, you don’t need to live near the desert to find Tan Cologne’s atmospheric music beguiling. Several months ago, my family took a trip through Nebraska’s Sandhills, and these eight songs would’ve been a perfect soundtrack for that environment as well.
In other words, Cave Vaults on the Moon in New Mexico is music for ambling through wide open spaces that aren’t encumbered or fenced in by overpasses, skyscrapers, shopping malls, and the other detritus of urban sprawl. Or, if you can’t escape that sort of sprawl, at least for imagining that you have.