A band whose founding members met while composing the soundtrack for a soft-core porno flick, Tunng delivers sounds that are as unexpected as they are lush and complex. With its affinity for strange instruments, gentle vocals and turntables, Tunng’s sound has been labeled “folktronica,” masterfully blending genres alongside bands like The Books and Four Tet. Critics have described it as phantasmal, mysterious and “sweetly odd.”
But while the band’s latest effort, “…And Then We Saw Land,” contains references to this early eclecticism, there’s something new on this record. For the most part the group’s fourth album, released on April 6, moves away from their former strangeness towards a more subtle, gentle folk-pop that is both captivating and electrifying.
“Saw Land” opens with the cheery, ambling persistence of “Hustle,” the first single off the album. The track’s whispery vocals and bouncing guitar sound like what might happen if Grizzly Bear and Badly Drawn Boy collaborated on the soundtrack for an indie romantic comedy starring Zooey Deschanel. And this buoyant, lilting sound is continued throughout the album, coming to a climax in “Don’t Look Down Or Back,” which hits with the force of a well-populated vocal section.
The album’s best moments, though, come not from Tunng’s poppier material but rather from the songs that strike a balance between the newer, more gentle Tunng and the old, eccentric, playing-instruments-made-of-sea-shells Tunng. “The Roadside,” the fourth track on the album, seems to solve this delicate equation best. This song not only has a kind of persistent rhythm that makes you want to listen to it on repeat for hours on end but also perfectly achieves the level of complexity and richness that has only been hinted at on Tunng’s earlier albums. The magic of “The Roadside” is due in part to the bass line à la Paul deJong of The Books and in part to the hauntingly catchy hook.
Tunng strikes gold with “The Roadside,” which is by far and away the highlight of “Saw Land.” While the album struggles to top its fourth track, it rarely fails to deliver. Weak points include “By Dusk They Were In The City,” a seemingly meaningless instrumental track on an album of well-crafted, lyrical folk songs, and “October,” a sparse song that perhaps suffers from its placement directly after “The Roadside.” For the most part, though, Tunng hits all the right notes on “…And Then We Saw Land,” the first release that traces the band’s move from bizarreness of their earlier creations to tracks that speak better to contemporary creations.