The Chicago-born, Portland-based musician Tara Jane O’Neil started out in the ’90s as a Kim Gordon-eque bassist/vocalist in Louisville math-rock band Rodan. She went indie-folk with her duo Retsin, generated abstract noise with the Sonora Pine, and got her Sarah McLachlan on in a series of singer-songwriter records, but but she’s never sounded more at home than she does on Where Shine New Lights.
On her seventh solo record, she concentrates on her greatest virtue: her facility with delicate instrumental textures. She’s still singing, but her voice, now softer than ever, is no longer front and center. Instead, it’s more of a choral accompaniment to her gentle guitar figures, which are fleshed out by supporting musicians on violin, piano, and vibraphone. Drenched in reverb and sustain, these largely electric but typically pastel shades fill the sonic spaces like watercolors washed over paper.
Much like the Sigur Rós side project Riceboy Sleeps, Where Shine New Lights is nearly ambient. Sometimes there are wordless sighs, and sometimes, in the background, there’s hushed existential love poetry, but only once, on “Elemental Finding,” does it coalesce into a verse/chorus/verse structure. Yet even here, O’Neil’s voice plays a supporting role to her seesawing guitars, which combine acoustic plucking with foregrounded, pedal-enabled haze. Her tempos are slow; her textures smooth, never rigid and rarely rhythmic. The hum of guitar amps is one with the music, and most tracks bleed into the next. As in nature, it’s rare that divisions between anything appear here. O’Neil simply evokes sky, sand, water and spirit, and that’s enough.