Publicity photo via Bandcamp

In and Out of Sound: Exploring ‘New Bodies’ with Unlikely Tangents

From the Adirondacks to clouds of cosmic dust, "post-everything" band Tangents defy genres and conventions on New Bodies. The magic relies less on what they separate than on what they unite.

New Bodies
Temporary Residence
15 June 2018

One’s personal, private sense of maleness or femaleness is known as: (a) genital identification; (b) sexual scripting; (c) gender identity; (d) sex role perception.

Huddle up, trembling masses. In the cold glow of the 21st-century—amid rumblings about gender rights, racial privilege, and immigration—issues of identity burn within our hearts like Santa Ana wildfires. To be sure, our definitions of selfhood help clarify our relationship to the world; yet the world corrals people into categories, some of which fuse differences together, others of which split similarities apart. Hurled into the winds of change, we never quite transcend what first made us. Life is a compound defined by origins.

On the pale end of the flame, Tangents’ “post-everything” band tag spans its members’ backgrounds in jazz, electronic, and indie singer-songwriting. The fusion of cello, drums, keyboard, guitar, and electronics is certainly diverse. However, on New Bodies, the quintet’s third full-length album and second for Temporary Residence, one can understand their reluctance to embrace such a brazen label. They’re not alone. (That maverick bread blend known as the Everything Bagel confronts the same liability: just a sprinkle of this and a pinch of that, and, voila, it’s both everything and nothing simultaneously—a true snafu between Continental breakfast and identity crisis.)

Fortunately, Tangents largely sidesteps this breaded conundrum. Captured during an eight-hour studio session, then assembled remotely over the subsequent six months, New Bodies dazzles with sleight of hand. To its credit, there is more than hocus pocus up its sleeves. Illusionists expecting bodies sawn in half might blink a little blankly. Tangents’ magic relies less on what they separate than on what they unite.

Gender role socialization begins at: (a) conception; (b) birth; (c) puberty; (d) adolescence.

But unions can be challenging: some join the unlikely with the unlikelier (consider the staggering divorce rate in the 21st century); others raise what lies dormant, awaiting deeper form. The band’s guitarist, Shoeb Ahmad, knows about uniting form with freedom—she began her gender transition during the mixing process of New Bodies. In pursuit of its inner music, Tangents, too, labor new life within conventions, channeling strength through vulnerability.

Sonic fingerprints smudge the polish of New Bodies, reminding us that jazz cannot be reduced to rapid-fire riffs nor electronic music to screen glare. Throughout the journey, Tangents collage rhythms and moods bordering otherworldly while avoiding exotica. When they wrangle odd contrasts within tracks—listen to the climatic breakbeat on “Terracotta” ease into an ECM-chilled closing—or between tracks—note how “Gone to Ground” shakes off old grief beside the hip-shakingly joyous “Swells Under Tito” (the music video was recorded with a camera small enough to bounce on a drum head!)—it mingles feelings too fluid to contain.

If you left swim trunks at the cabin, don’t worry; there’s room in the canoe. Handbells melt into sine waves on “Lake George”, evaporating into plucked strings. Pause to inhale the local pines; the view is divine. Venturing inland, “Terracotta” bristles with shards of ideas which would excite an archeologist at a dig site. As drums tickle guitar, summoning silicon ghosts, the keyboard echoes an emphatic revivalism, balancing vigor with clay-baked fragility.

Learning from one’s environment how to act “masculine” or “feminine” is known as: (a) gender association; (b) gender role socialization; (c) gender training; (d) gender role perception.

While many tracks gain purpose in their proximity to others, some linger when expressing rather than exploring a feeling. Whereas the jazz rapture of “Immersion” shimmers with cymbal splashes in a creeping crescendo which never releases, spiraling in a flurry of chipped keys, “Gone to Ground” tunnels through a dank cave lit by a gamelan rhythm, stumbling upon a canary fluttering all too briefly at the end. Elsewhere, cholesterol-free and doctor-approved, a dub bass line pulses throughout “Arteries”, oxygenating limbs and brains. The album’s closer, “Oort Cloud”, references astronomer Jan Oort’s theory about how the planets formed from a cloud of icy dust grains; electronics swaddle hypnotic keys, drifting in an elliptical orbit.

Tangents paint portraits both portable and nuanced. Their inclusive sense of scale distinguishes them from the sprawl of peer improvisers such as the Necks. Captured during a single day’s recording session in a Sydney studio—think of the Grateful Dead’s group telepathy, but with neither a patchouli whiff nor Captain Trips’ blurred windows of perception—Tangents make music that hums clearly in our mind and heart.

Oblivious to trending polls, New Bodies unites five given bodies—the quintet’s own human forms—with one that is chosen: a collective body continuing to grow with each album. Whether tracing a shoreline on a cartographer’s map or theorizing about a cloud of space dust, Tangents indulge their wanderlust, celebrating a body free of postmodern hang-ups. We can breathe deeply in the safe space where identity is reducible to One: a force unseen on any ballot measure. All is fine this far from the Sun. One need not be touched by air to feel the light within, rippling in unlikely tangents.

The ultimate erogenous zone in both males and females is/are the: (a) genitals; (b) anus; (c) mouth; (d) brain.

[Answers: (c) gender identity; (b) birth; (b) gender role socialization;(d) brain. Note: The questions were taken from an online test by AP Psychology]

RATING 8 / 10