Music

Tinariwen: Tassili

With guest musicians and dialed-back acoustics, Tinariwen offers a strangely tentative album.


Tinariwen

Tassili

Label: Anti-
US Release Date: 2011-08-30
UK Release Date: 2011-08-29
Amazon
iTunes

Tinariwen released their first full-length album, Radio Tisdas Sessions, in 2001, but it was their second, 2004's Amassakoul, that caught the world's ear, brought them widespread acclaim, and kick-started the whole "desert blues" movement. The first decade of the 2000s was a heady time that saw the band playing in London for the Live 8 concerts, jamming with Carlos Santana, and joining Robert Plant onstage for a tear-it-up version of "Whole Lotta Love." (YouTube it -- it's worth a look, notwithstanding the grainy video and lousy sound.)

Sooner or later, though, every band faces the inevitable question: "Now what?" Having achieved more in a few years than most bands manage in their whole careers, Tinariwen is faced with the classic conundrum: how to continue building their legacy without repeating themselves, and how to retain a freshness of approach without forgetting what made them so compelling in the first place.

Their way of addressing these questions on their fifth full-length album, Tassili, is to dial back the electric guitar a fair bit, relying more on acoustic sounds while injecting contributions from other musicians. Wilco guitarist Nels Cline contributes some ambient guitar crunch on opener "Imidiwan Ma Tennam", probably the best track on the album. Other songs incorporate vocals by Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio and horn backup courtesy of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

This sounds like a recipe for disaster, but against all odds, some of these masalas actually work. In large part, this is because Tinariwen's music is such a rich stew of sounds that Cline's guitar or the Brass Band's throaty growls simply become new spices in the mix. Where the collaboration falls flat is on "Tenere Taqqim Tossam", which brings Adebimpe's honey-smooth vocals to the fore where they tussle with the Tuaregs' throaty rasping. It sounds as jarring as you'd expect, and oddly enough, it is the album's first single.

The collaborations jump out at the listener, but they account for only half of the album's 12 songs; in some cases, the guests are barely noticeable. Much of the rest is recognizably Tinariwen, and there are plenty of solid tunes here. Any listener new to the band is likely to be impressed. For longtime fans, though, a sense of diminishing returns may be setting in. Tinariwen have released five albums in ten years, including four in the past seven years; they've also released a concert DVD, contributed to compilation albums, toured relentlessly, and lost two founding members to another group, Terakaft. All this is a fair amount of activity for any band not named the Beatles; along the way, Tinariwen has spawned what is arguably the most exciting movement in world music today. But a sense of repetition is creeping into some of their music, which is a shame.

Tassili is a strangely ambivalent album. It neither wholly embraces the East-West fusion experiments suggested by its handful of collaborations, nor does it herald a back-to-basics acoustic approach, despite the prevalence of such acoustic guitar tunes as "Walle Illa", "Tameyawt", and album closer "Takkest Tamidaret". The record seems unable to make up its mind about where, exactly, it wants to go.

So then, is this record the document of a band at a crossroads? Maybe so. But given Tinariwen's consistent excellence over the years, that may not be an entirely bad thing. There's no telling where the band will go next, but one thing is sure: it will be worth listening to where they end up.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Film

The Cyclops and the Sunken Place: Narrative Control in 'Watchmen' and 'Get Out'

Hollywood is increasing Black representation but Damon Lindelof and Jordan Peele challenge audiences to question the authenticity of this system.

Featured: Top of Home Page

'Breathing Through the Wound' Will Leave You Gasping for Air

As dizzying as Víctor Del Árbol's philosophy of crime may appear, the layering of motifs in Breathing Through the Wound is vertiginous.

Music

12 Essential Kate Bush Songs

While Kate Bush is a national treasure in the UK, American listeners don't know her as well. The following 12 songs capture her irrepressible spirit.

Music

Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish Replace Form with Risk on 'Interactivity'

The more any notions of preconceived musicality are flicked to the curb, the more absorbing Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish's Interactivity gets.

Music

Martin Green's Junkshop Yields the Gritty, Weird Story of Britpop Wannabes

Featuring a litany of otherwise-forgotten budget bin purchases, Martin Green's two-disc overview of coulda-been Britpop contenders knows little of genre confines, making for a fun historical detour if nothing else.

Reviews

Haux Compellingly Explores Pain via 'Violence in a Quiet Mind'

By returning to defined moments of pain and struggle, Haux cultivates breathtaking music built on quiet, albeit intense, anguish.

Reviews

'Stratoplay' Revels in the Delicious New Wave of the Revillos

Cherry Red Records' six-disc Revillos compilation, Stratoplay, successfully charts the convoluted history of Scottish new wave sensations.

Reviews

Rising Young Jazz Pianist Micah Thomas Debuts with 'Tide'

Micah Thomas' Tide is the debut of a young jazz pianist who is comfortable and fluent in a "new mainstream": abstraction as well as tonality, freedom as well as technical complexity.

Music

Why Australia's Alice Ivy Doesn't Want to Sleep

Alice Ivy walks a fine line between chillwave cool and Big Beat freakouts, and her 2018 debut record was an electropop wonder. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, she tries to keep the good vibes going with a new record decked out in endless collaborations.

Books

Five Women Who Fought the Patriarchy

Whether one chooses to read Square Haunting for the sketches of the five fascinating women, or to understand how misogyny and patriarchy constricted intellectual and public life in the period, Francesca Wade's book is a superb achievement.

Film

Director Denis Côté on Making Film Fearlessly

In this interview with PopMatters, director Denis Côté recalls 2010's Curling (now on Blu-Ray) discusses film as a "creative experiment in time", and making films for an audience excited by the idea of filling in playful narrative gaps.

Music

Learning to Take a Picture: An Interview With Inara George

Inara George is unafraid to explore life's more difficult and tender moments. Discussion of her latest music, The Youth of Angst, leads to stories of working with Van Dyke Parks and getting David Lee Roth's musical approval.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.