Tan or Boil – ‘Seamstress in a Suitcase’

September 28, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Big Issue, #312, September 2008.

Seamstress in a Suitcase
Tan or Boil

Seamstress in a Suitcase is an oddly pretty creature. It is the debut work from Tan or Boil – the collective moniker for young New York songwriter Jason Bacasa and idiosyncratic Kansas composer and instrumentalist Aaron Martin – and it is as stunningly fragile as it is ornate. Over 13 fleeting acoustic sketches, the duo pair austere fingerpicked guitar with the most delicately rendered of arrangements.

As with his critically acclaimed solo work, Martin’s instrumentation is something to behold here. He plies ‘materials’ such as cello, mandolin, banjo, saw, sheet metal, water, circus toy, singing bowl and penny whistle to Bacasa’s breathy, double-tracked falsetto. In the process, they manage to reference folk, echoes of soul and whispers of experimentalism.

The effect is gorgeously unobtrusive and residual. The creaky, near-whispered vocal, disparate guitars and ominous low-end of ‘Arms Against My Legs’, the shanty-like ukulele and clip-clop percussion of ‘Surgeon’, the beauteous, rag-tag balladry of ‘Camouflage’ and gentle embrace of ‘The Sun Undoes the City’ all make for highlights.

Rattling with evocation and imagery, Seamstress in a Suitcase is the stuff of departure and distance and reticence. It is a remarkable debut collection from two perfectly peculiar musical sorts.

Dan Rule


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