Tunng are a band that I keep talking about, hoping that people will know them, and finding myself confronted by faces blank with unrecognising glazed eyes. There are a lot of things that I don’t understand about the world – why does it rain only when I put washing out? Why can redheads do magic? Why does cheese give me nightmares? – but I am always so surprised to learn that people don’t know about really good music.
Perhaps it’s about being down here in Australia while they’re all up there in London. But being released on Pod, who have also released Girls and The Soft Pack, you’d think they’d have a little more of a profile. They slipped in and out of Australia in 2008 for the Sydney Festival, but maybe we’ve just got goldfish memories.
So I’ve been listening to Tunng’s first album, 2005’s Mother’s Daughter and Other Songs for quite a long time now and it’s fantastic – experimental, mellow, creative and full of charming British accents and male-female harmonies blending together beautifully. …And Then We Saw Land is really a whole different album, five years on, and I think has the hooks, beats and infectious majestic pop sound to really bring Tunng a little more notoriety ’round this town.
With the departure of co-founder Sam Genders, Tunng have really taken a new turn – not entirely away from the experimentalism but perhaps towards a brassier, stronger, folkier sound. Co-founder Mike Lindsay has said of the album: “We learned that you don’t always need structure! As long as there is presence, emotion and groove” which kind of confuses me a little, because I think in most of this album there is a strong sense of structure in the songs – although perhaps not as strong as a Beyonce record, and I’m just open-minded.
Perhaps it’s this – if I’m being honest with myself, despite repeated listenings I am still feeling like the album is long and the songs are complex. Don’t take that the wrong way! They’re both good things. But perhaps that feeling comes from the experimentation with structure. I didn’t have my music theory hat on while I listened to it (I was dancing too much and it fell off) so I haven’t mapped out the song structures, but don’t be too scared – there are still, at least, definite choruses, and great, uplifting, hooky ones at that. The opening track sings out, “And we will hustle, hustle, hustle to be free,” and the beautiful choir of Tunng’s vocalists sings, “Oh don’t look down or back,” in the song of the same name.
There’s something about good vocal harmonies that I am so drawn to – it’s what I love in The New Pornographer’s ‘Hey Snow White’ and it’s what I love about The Polyphonic Spree and The Danielson Famile and Akron/Family and Architecture in Helsinki (are we on the same page yet?) – that happy sound of people singing together. Love it. This album is that kind of smiling.
‘The Roadside’ opens with beautiful dueling, layered guitars (banjos?), showing that the minimalist streak of Tunng is not yet lost. The song builds up in layers, a shucka-shucka drum beat, male backup vocals, bass, piano, distorted synths and lead vocals from Becky Jacobs, who steps up to properly sing a few times on this album, and it works. I can deal with girl vocals if they’re not singing stupid shit, and the lyric writing from Tunng always manages to just sidestep cliché.
‘These Winds’, ‘October’ and ‘It Breaks’ show the more delicate, vocal-based writing that I recognise from Tunng’s side-project, The Accidental, but there are tracks on …And Then We Saw Land that I’d be tempted to throw to a dancefloor, too, like ‘Hustle’ and the brilliantly catchy ‘Sashini’.
You’ll find a lot of acoustic guitar underpinning electronic and organic beats, stunning vocals, charming lyrics, piano adornments, brass majesty and a strong and gorgeous happiness seeping through the cracks between tracks and in every quirky and clever arrangement from this exceptionally creative, wonderful band. …And Then We Saw Land is an album that deserves to be played and listened to – it’s far from Mother’s Tongue but it’s not sell-out – it’s just good.