Review Summary: Less is more.
That was my first thought upon initially stumbling upon the Floridian brothers’ band: Tonstartssbandht. My second thought was one of remorse: over placing this two piece psychedelic art rock outfit on the back burner for so many years for no discernable reason other than chafing at their peculiar name. My third thought, which occurred while spinning their 2021 release Petunia, concluded that “it doesn’t matter: I’m home now.”
True to its title: Petunia sounds like a flower in bloom, replete with sharp, satisfying harmonies writhing and whirling around loose, fluidly flowing melodies. Singer & guitarist Edwin White stretches his light, breathy falsetto across about a half dozen patiently paced 7 minute tracks, imbuing these spacious runtimes with tastefully layered vocal harmonies that are simultaneously eerie and familiar. Meanwhile drummer Adam White – who also provides backing vocals – demonstrates a deft sense of momentum that carries the album’s lengthy tracks to fruition.
The spaces in which the strengths of both brothers converge are where Petunia truly shines: When the guitarist instinctively locks in with the drummer’s momentum, dances around it, and cathartically breaks it down before languidly building it back up in fresh but familiar forms. Always surprising, but never off putting, you feel as if you are being let in on a clever secret when listening to Petunia. In it, Tonstartssbandht does an excellent job of fostering a sense of intimacy with the listener. As if sharing a quiet in-joke.
The playful, laid back atmosphere of Petunia is a real asset. The record has the quality of stumbling upon a bedroom recording session, at 10 in the morning, with a tray of tea in hand. Guitars glistening in the hazy morning sun. High hats dancing in the breeze in a loose circular step. The lyrics a cherubic smile on an enigmatic face; a careless wink, a knowing nod:
“All the blown out times back in paradise, slidin around on ice,”
“Drivin all day long just to sing our songs with my friend,”
“What a life.”
This album shimmers, seemingly effortlessly. Not like a diamond, but like a drop of dew on a blade of uncut grass. This album shuffles, seemingly instinctually. Not like a swing dancer, but like a dusty deck of tarot cards: imbued with the kind of arcane secrets that might enhance a mundane life. Like Tarot, Tonstartssbandht toes a line between familiarity and mystique, to great effect. However - also like Tarot - Petunia has somewhat narrow appeal: coming across as vague and drawn out to audiences that demand an experience that is more clear and concise. The final leg of the album in particular begins to lose the thread, resorting to more insistent guitar ripping that feels like a mismatch compared to the record’s delicate, carefully considered Side A.
However, what makes Petunia so striking despite its decidedly laid back vibe is its mastery over a diminishing aspect of modern rock music: melody. ‘Pass Away’ and ‘What Has Happened’ expertly build melodic momentum through playful call & response phrases that expand and contract with a languid fluidity that threatens to sweep you away before shifting and morphing beneath your feet. Both brothers know precisely when to interrupt these ongoing melodies with perfectly timed breaks from melodic structure. The push and pull at play here is subtle, teasing, tantalizing, and refreshingly revealing in its mysteries.
Petunia is, after all, a shared secret. A whisper and a nod. Unpretentious, yet unconcerned with spoon feeding listeners its ideas in bite sized crowd pleasers. A testament to the pure melodic potential of the two piece band – scrawled on the back of a napkin, held in place by your mug of morning tea.