Tunng - ...And Then We Saw Land
released 1 March 2010 on Full Time Hobby
You know what? You can’t beat a good -tronica from time to time, can you? First there was electronica, obviously, and then it seemed you could put beeps and effects over any style of music and hey, you had a new style of music and a handy suffix to define it! Good old -tronica. We all know indietronica, but then, what next? Metaltronica? Jazztronica? Sadly, landfill indietronica seems the most likely.
Anyway, Tunng can be thrust into the pigeonhole labelled “folktronica”. It’s a genre name that produces an involuntary sceptical reaction, since the natural, unplugged nature of folk music doesn’t lend itself even to electricity a lot of the time, so folk and electronica appear unlikely bedfellows. So, what are Tunng? Are they mavericks fearlessly melding together two distinct styles to make something greater than the sum of its parts, or are they just folkies strapping on some bells and whistles in an attempt to appeal to a larger audience?
On the evidence of …And Then We Saw Land, it could be said that it’s a little from column A, and a little from column B.
When Tunng are good, they’re very, very good, and they’re rarely better than they are on opening track, Hustle. Electronics fade in, before giving way to a piano riff, which in turn yields to acoustic guitar, school music trolley percussion, uplifting banjo and jaunty drums. It’s an absolutely gorgeous start worthy of any album, and chances are you won’t even notice the maudlin opening lines: “When I come home, you won’t be there anymore”. It’s almost impossible to stay still whilst listening to it, resistance is futile and you’ll be stamping your feet, swaying to the off-kilter rhythm, or both in no time.
You’d be forgiven for forgetting the whole use of electronics debate at this point, but as …And Then We Saw Land progresses, Tunng run out of ideas and it’s as if the unusual sounds and squelches are merely an attempt to disguise the fact. Admittedly, the sounds aren’t as self-consciously kooky or try-too-hard as on previous albums, but more often than not, a dash of electro adds nothing to a mediocre folk song.
Really, …And Then We Saw Land only serves to prove that Tunng are a less inventive British Sea Power with short attention spans. The tracks are all pleasant enough individually, but lack cohesion as an album, and inspiration often runs dry. The clattering, driving percussion that proves effective to begin with, ends up becoming something of a chore and a lot of the songs threaten to go somewhere without ever really doing so.
In fact, as an analogy, The Roadside may be symptomatic of the pros and cons of …And Then We Saw Land as a whole. It’s got a pretty, acoustic bed, nice male/female vocal interaction and a good use of harmonies. However, it’s merely diverting than gripping, and the drum machine fills feel forced, as if Tunng have a strict electro-on-every-track policy. Oddly enough, like most tracks on the album, it sounds oddly familiar, maybe like a cover of a track you’ve only heard once before, even though Tunng aren’t especially derivative.
If you’ve got this far, two things to mention. Firstly, thanks for reading, it’s much appreciated. Secondly, it’s worth pointing out that despite the mostly negative comments, …And Then We Saw Land isn’t a bad album, it just doesn‘t grab you. The amount of new music being released on a weekly basis is unfathomable, so you need something to make people come back for even a second listen, let alone listens three, four and beyond. If you hear …And Then We Saw Land, chances are you’ll think it’s a fairly decent album. Then, an hour or so after listening to it, you won’t be able to remember what any of the songs sound like. Then, you’ll probably forget you ever heard the thing. If ever a track were selected by your mp3 player’s random function, you wouldn’t guess who the artist was straight away, but you’d enjoy the track, but probably not enough to give the album another proper go.
And in the end, that’s Tunng’s downfall. A nice band with some nice ideas and some nice songs, but nice isn’t really enough.