Retsin Reviews  

Salt Lick
From the pages of the CMJ New Music Report, Issue: 449 - Oct 30, 1995

Retsin is the union between two of indie-rock's most respected female musicians: Tara Jane O'Neill (of Rodan) and Cynthia Nelson (of Ruby Falls). The two women began writing songs together on the set of the film Half-Cocked last year, and after numerous excursions between their respective hometowns (Louisville for O'Neill, New York City for Nelson), they had put together all of the pieces that make up Salt Lick. The EP is like a cut-and-paste: Nelson and O'Neill recorded bits of songs on their own (most of it on eight-tracks), and then plastered it all into an amazingly cohesive whole. Both women contribute guitar, bass and vocal parts and, in doing so, have built a strong, soulful collection of tunes that get their energy from the perfect meeting of minds between the two. There is a gentle sadness to the vocals (lyrics like "I can feel blue in my blue room" make us teary) which are delivered on a bed of fuzzed-out strumming. Above all else, it is the songs' combination of rawness and placidity that gives them their intensity: They are lullabies that will leave you sleepless.

Egg Fusion CD
From the pages of the CMJ New Music Report, Issue: 473 - May 6, 1996

Not everyone can succeed at four-track recording. The back-to-basics nakedness of lo-fi, with no blanket of glossy production and technical re-mastering (no place to hide, in other words), scares the devil out of most musicians. To many traditionalists, those who can pull it off are the real musical stars. And in that respect, Retsin is a supernova. The union of two well-respected indie-rockers (Tara Jane O'Neill of Rodan and Cynthia Nelson of Ruby Falls), Retsin follows up its acclaimed `95 EP Salt Lick, with Egg Fusion, a barefoot, 14-song trek down a dusty back road of raw, biting emotions that are eloquently exorcised through both the music and the lyrics. These ladies are so lo-fi, you probably won't be able to hum any of these tunes in your leisure, but you won't soon forget the collective whole. High points include the small simmer to raging boil progression of "BB," the almost indecipherable "Tamale" (not even the lyric sheet will help you with this one), and the slow drawl of "Duck Out," whose introductory police sirens will have you thinking "Memorex" before submitting to the coincidence of "live." Egg Fusion is a prime example of the fact that sometimes simpler is indeed better.

EGG Fusion CD
From Gravity Girl

This is as close to perfection as bedroom recording can get. A collaboration between Louisville's wonderful Tara Jane O'Neil (Rodan, the Sonora Pine) and pal Cynthia Lynn Nelson (Ruby Falls), Egg Fusion lecherously taps the emotional vein, its acousticy charm both instant and distant, bleeding with a deep distinctively drawn consistency. The key to this record is that distance. Not meaning that vocals are made distant by knob-twiddling, but actually recorded at a distance. This creates an organic, humid thickness, both extremely admirable and enticingly listenable. The beautifully warm Southern vocals of TJO and CLN only add a wonderful painterly quality to the heavy mid-summer night sweat, "it was too dark to see the stars..."

The honest beauty and melancholy of the vocals create heart-binding moods where there really shouldn't be, lyrics like: "I'm only looking at pictures of cucumbers dipped in ink...", "tamale, tamale..." and "I"m a kangaroo" shouldn't knot your stomach, but the delivery is so sweetly laced that they glaze the eyes without fail. They take the grand dynamic contrasts of Slint and make them humble, the discordant beauty of Rodan and melt it into sensitivity. Retsin embrace the contrasts, but rather than stretch them to breaking point, they are interwoven with assured touch.

"Planets shift and stars run dry; stars they all fall from the sky..." bb sees the guitars at their rusted razor-sharpest, meandering and passionate; and Hottie Titmouse hyperventilates with messy terror, live drums and loose percussion swirling around frenetic guitars. But across the board, this is definitely more of a late night, Palace Brothers kind of record. Duck Out most distinctively embraces the country sound: "hand them a mirror, cause they don't know who they are til they're characterised..." the gals croon; seemingly effortless in their charms. "But they'll rot as fast as peaches, fall like matchsticks in a fire..." Elsewhere opener Fly South, Loon and Tamale make most use of twin vocal lines, and the setting of Egg Fusion offers O'Neil's voice a chance to shine, her vocals having improved remarkably since Rodan days. her vox shine brightly in the wonderous Kangaroo, which is poignant, uplifting, simply gorgeous; "wouldn't it be good if I could stay true to you and your dreams..."

"She tells a story like a cornfield grows". Red Wing is really the only guitar noodling, meandering track, largely evident of the non-constraintive feel of the record, while A Duplex For Sidewinders is the most developed, ocarina and, courtesy of producer Steve Good, bass clarinet divining the requisite sublime vocals.

In that every song conveys sheer pleasure in its delivery, and is etched with obvious emotional reassurance; this is a record that settles as a small, humble, reluctant, reclusive masterpiece.
- Anthony Carew

Retsin and the Sonora Pine: Indie Intertwinings
from the Boston Phoenix: 1996

In Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky's independent film Half-Cocked (1995), five restless twentysomethings steal a van full of rock gear, christen themselves Truckstop, and pretend they're on tour. The differences between masquerading as a band and actually being one, the film seems to suggest, may not be all that great. Both require a considerable degree of emotional and physical commitment, and neither guarantees a paycheck at the end of the day.

To complicate matters, Truckstop comprised members of various indie-rock outfits, two of whom -- former Rodan bassist Tara Jane O'Neil and Ruby Falls frontwoman Cynthia Lynn Nelson -- have gone on to form a "real" band called Retsin, who will headline a show at the Middle East this Saturday night. And Egg Fusion, Retsin's homespun full-length debut on Simple Machines, is only one of two new discs that highlights O'Neil's talents as a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. She's also featured on a homonymous release by the Sonora Pine (Quarterstick/Touch & Go), a moody foursome she formed with former Rodan drummer Kevin Coultas, Lungfish/June of 44 guitarist Sean Meadows, and violinist Samara Lubelski. (Completing her hat trick, O'Neil joins Coultas as the rhythm section on Near Life Experience, the new disc by the Boston band Come, which is due from Matador on May 21,1996.

There's a naturalness and emotional clarity on Egg Fusion that transcends its lo-fi origins. O'Neil and Nelson achieve a kind of effortless symbiotic chemistry that fuels the sublime moodiness of the disc and balances spare, confessional folk against rough-textured rock without settling into the bland void of folk rock. Think of it as what the Indigo Girls might have sounded like if they'd been raised by Sonic Youth, or a musical marriage between Dusty Springfield and Dinosaur Jr. "From the city's mouth to the falls of the Ohio," the two women harmonize against a Spartan backdrop of naked acoustic guitars on the disc's opener, "Fly South." That's an accurate reflection of the territory covered by O'Neil, a native of Louisville, and her New York City-bred counterpart. And it's an indication of where their music is headed when drummer Greta Ritcher joins them on the next track; the hootenanny spirit gets an edgy injection of rattling snare and noisy electric guitars, and the lyrics a shot of urban grit. (Bassist Todd Cook of For Carnation fills out Retsin's live line-up.) Elsewhere, O'Neil and Nelson pepper their poignant songs with street noises and ominous feedback ("Duck Out"), surreal echoes and dreamy vocals ("Barefoot & Stones"), and a little country twang and city-girl attitude ("Kangaroo"). They create a warm atmosphere permeated by understated charm and wistful beauty.

A darker, more ominous current flows through the debut by the Sonora Pine, who coalesced in New York City in the fall of '94 when Meadows arrived from Tennessee to hook up with O'Neil and Coultas. The CD was recorded a year later in Louisville by Shellac's Bob Weston on an eight-track at O'Neil's house. The disc opens with a funereal instrumental featuring O'Neil on pump organ and little else. When Meadows's angular guitar and Coultas's forceful backbeat kick in on "Compass Lure," the Sonora Pine recall the edgy intensity of Rodan. When O'Neil steps forward with her lovely voice and Lubelski's violin settles into the meditative backdrop on "The Gin Mills," "Goldmund," and "The Hook," the Sonora Pine generate a sophisticated kind of simplicity -- an engaging cohesiveness that makes it hard to believe this won't be a "real" band until June, when they'll regroup to tour with Come.

-- Matt Ashare

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