Album Review: Tacocat — ‘This Mess is a Place’

Tacocat’s latest album is a sweet pop treat, with a sunny outlook seemingly bursting out of the speakers on every track. Or is that really the case? On This Mess is a Place, appearances can be deceiving, and there’s definitely a bit of sleight of hand going on here. The band’s effervescent songs sure get your toes tapping, but the lyrics burrow in your brain and leave something a little more disquieting behind.

But the album does get off to an optimistic start with “Hologram,” a song that evokes the gloom of the present day (“How did we come to be so jaded?”), yet insists that it’s always darkest before the dawn (“But little by little it’s getting bright again”). That sets you up for tracks like the more downcast “The Joke of Life,” set in a more morose world where you “Can’t tell the nightmare from the dream.” Which is then followed by an endearing song about a beloved pet (“Little Friend”). Back and forth, light and dark, push and shove. Similarly, a song like the downcast “Crystal Ball” is matched by the take-matters-into-your-own-hands initiative of “The Problem,” which has vocalist Emily Nokes trying to stir an unresponsive soul out of their self-imposed lethargy, pointing out that all that worry and stress gets boring “when there’s no resolution and no change.”

Nokes is backed up by a terrific power trio: Eric Randall on guitar, Bree McKenna on bass, and Lelah Maupin on drums. They’re crisp, sharp, and snappy, with the kind of new wave-retro rock vibe reminiscent of Blondie. It’s what keeps the spirits bright, even when the lyrical mood is a little more serious. It’s why you’ll keep the volume up, waiting in anticipation as each song ends for the next one to begin. It’s the reason why Tacocat is such a strong live draw, with a very devoted following.

The pace slows down a bit by the end. “Meet Me at La Palma” is a tribute to the kind of comfy neighborhood bar where you end up hanging out for hours, because there’s no reason to leave. Nokes’ final “I wanna stay” is a touch mournful, as if she can already sense the developers waiting just outside the door for the chance to turn the dive into something more upscale (and pricier). “Miles and Miles” is a contemplative, wistful number about the passage of time, how the days go by slowly, but the years seem to fly right by. Maybe it’s a needed respite before leaping back into the fray.

For my money, I’d choose to cruise back to the forthright confidence of “New World,” which celebrates the potential we have for a bright and shiny tomorrow:

New world, new planet

Better than the one we left behind

Take the best parts and build a new start

Leave the rest in their own slime

Now, that’s a manifesto anyone can get behind.

Click HERE to pre-order This Mess is a Place. 

Check out “The Joke of Life” below via YouTube and get more info about Tacocat HERE.

Gillian G. Gaar

Gillian G. Gaar covers the arts, entertainment, and travel. She was a senior editor at the legendary Northwest music publication The Rocket, and has also written locally for The Seattle Times, The Stranger, and Seattle Weekly, as well as national/international outlets such as Rolling Stone, Mojo, Q, and Goldmine, among others. She has written numerous books, including She’s A Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll, Entertain Us: The Rise of Nirvana, Return of the King: Elvis Presley’s Great Comeback, and World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story. Follow @GillianGaar on Twitter.

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