As frontman for Whip Cream Wars, Tanner Standridge has been quietly honing his singular voice and songwriting chops under the radar (mostly on the Northside of Indianapolis) for several years. Standridge's combustible new EP, Handful of Hair, a limited edition (a mere 100 cassettes were made) release through In Store Recordings (the Indy-based label's first foray into cassette releases), should solidify him as an exciting artist to watch in the Indianapolis music scene.
It's an assured effort with an urgency and gleefully eccentric approach that has the potential to turn more than a few heads. Too weird to be mere pop-rock, too unfailingly melodic to be hifalutin art-rock, Standridge's songs come on like aural sugar cubes for those with soft softs for true alternative radio. Partnered with Adam Gross (S.M. Wolf, Amo Joy), who produced the EP in his home studio and played drums, bass, slide guitar, and xylophone, Standridge's tunes become fuzzed-out, lo-fi missiles of alt-pop delirium.
For inspiration for Handful of Hair, Standridge went back in time to try to recapture a sense of childhood at a point when he was newly out of his parents' house for the first time and started living with his girlfriend. That pursuit of mentally retracing steps as a new adult in order to try to see the world through childish eyes resulted in the album's frequent themes of family and dreams. Many of the most potent moments seem to stem from finding the desirable route into encroaching adulthood while picking through cobwebs of adolescent and childhood anxieties that still cling to the brain.
Standridge's vocals have always been an almost brazen force of status quo-smashing gusto. Potentially jarring for some, endearing for most with an outsider streak, his idiosyncratic voice is a daring musical weapon able to conjure whimsy, fragility, or fear on a dime. Coming on like the unlikely spawn of Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock, Black Francis, and Stephen Malkmus with bastardized homages to Buddy Holly's hiccupped melodies, Standridge often sounds like some craze-eyed conductor chasing butterflies in the field. However, Handful of Hair shows he's a young conductor who (with the fine assist from Gross) is in complete command of his compositions.
Handful of Hair is a strangely beautiful, fearless record with ramshackle spirit and thoughtful delivery. It is made all the more impressive on the strength of Gross's knack for psychedelic-tinged production choices and wicked tempo switches. Going into the album, Standridge had begun writing songs with more changes, and it was his intention to make a volatile record with songs that stretched out longer than ones he'd written in the past. Even with seven of the nine tracks clocking in around the three-and-a-half-minute mark or less, the Nuggets-heavy fervor at the heart of Standridge's previous material still rings out loud and clear, but the changes galore add both dramatic scope and heightened tension to these songs. The two tracks that happen to crack the five-minute barrier, "Swooping Bird" and "Boy In Box," amount to two of the most wildly unpredictable romps of pretty melody and rollercoaster arrangement you'll likely hear locally this year.
If Handful of Hair serves as an introduction to Tanner Standridge's music, don't be surprised if a first date with these tunes turns into a steady courtship as the year advances.