Tu Fawning’s Joe Haege and Corrina Repp are long time veterans of the Portland, Oregon music scene — Haege as a member of the experimentally minded indie group 31Knots, and Repp as a solo folk artist whose hushed and haunting style found its fullest realization on her 2006 album The Absent and the Distant. The band’s 2010 debut, Hearts on Hold was a collaborative effort that pushed both artists in new directions that fused sampling, horns and the dramatic rhythmic flourishes of percussionist Toussaint Perrault.
Their new album, A Monument, brims with oscillating keys, bluesy brass stabs, dirty guitars and intricate percussion work. Repp’s vocals cascade from a whisper to a wail as the band cycles through a varied progression of musical references, and while there are times that the album could benefit from a bit more focus, there are some truly exceptional moments where everything feels perfectly placed. All of the group’s members are talented multi-instrumentalists with Haege filling both guitar and drum duties, and Perrault playing keyboards on many of the album’s tracks.
The most immediately enchanting songs are those that blend a twisted blues swagger with dark, gothic shades of instrumentation. On the driving “Blood Stains”, a pulsing, fuzzed out keyboard line holds down the low end while Repp weaves a slowly burning melody that builds toward a chorus of brass band horn stabs and a steady, loping drum work. “Build a Great Cliff” is Repp’s most memorable performance on the album, sounding like a cross between Amy Winehouse and Velvets-era Nico, over a hypnotic instrumental of detuned marching drums, twinkling pianos and distorted blues guitars. A chorus of jazzy horns sway and swell together as the song shifts shape into a climatic chanting voodoo march — it’s all very haunting and dramatic, like the soundtrack to some alternate dimension Tarantino flick.
Much of A Monument treads the same epic path that is reigned over by the Arcade Fires and Radioheads of the indie rock world . And while Tu Fawning never quite reach the same heights of grandeur as these masters of the form, their ambition and their technical prowess results in an album that reveals further depths with each listen. “Wager” blends reverberating, percussive guitar strumming with rolling toms with a clattering, half shouted chorus that explodes into bursts of cacophonous guitar and drum breaks. And “Skin and Bone” is a straight up piano ballad held high by thick and fluttering rhythms and howling guitar squalls. While these songs succeed in their lofty aspirations, there are others, like the opening track “Anchor” that plod along without the sense of drama and energy that make the rest of the album so engaging.
The last couple of songs feel oddly out of step with the rest of the album. “To Break Into”, is the only song that really drags down the momentum and the final cut “Bones” is a sample heavy, multifarious groove that is dense and danceable, but doesn’t quite gel with the album’s darker tones. All together, A Monument is a step forward for a highly talented group of musicians, and with gems like “Build a Great Cliff” and “Wager”, it is clear that they are capable of achieving great things.