Tangents’ post-genre intentions were clear on their 2016 album, Stateless. New Bodies, their third full length (and second for the Temporary Residence Ltd. label), carries their poly-mode over into seven instrumental, improv-fed showcases of their increasingly ambitious work.
No doubt the ‘new bodies’ that the shapeshifting Sydney quintet are contemplating in the album’s title are not mapped and rigid like the land masses we inhabit, and not uniform in structure like the human forms we all occupy. Exploration of celestial bodies is an apparent possible theme, yet those are still so far out of reach as to remain a visible but untouchable ideal. Tangents do boldly go places few or none have quite gone before, but they do handily get there. Bodies of water, then, surely. If their music were to be rendered in physical form, it could only be in liquid.
This is not to say that New Bodies is formless or anarchic. Rivers may spill over but stay on their path, bend and bend back again but constantly push toward their ultimate destination. Tangents don’t trade in the chaos of change purely for its own sake, and for all of the pivots and headstands that they do, their music is not ADD at the moment but surprisingly patient over the long term. Some strains of electronic music enable and encourage the hyperactivity of glitchy cut-and-paste composition, but Tangents are five individuals who have to take every turn together and hold one another accountable for all of the creative micro-decisions that they make, of which there are dozens each in bold, multifaceted pieces like “Lake George” and “Terracotta”.
The fluidity of Tangents extends to the kind of (pop) cultural settings they can hang in, though it is all in varying strata of the upper-middle to highbrow. They can hang out on either side of post-rock, illustrated by their having played shows in recent times with both Tortoise (original rock-instrumentation-for-non-rock-purposes post-rock) and MONO (latter quiet/loud-epic-rock-music post-rock). They can play shows in respected art galleries, and attract minds like that of Jim O’Rourke, who recently remixed “Terracotta”, drawing out the original’s eight minutes to an earthly yet otherworldly 11.
They don’t use a saxophone (at least very often), and they aren’t “jazz rock”, but they are undoubtedly jazz-adjacent. Unlike in jazz, the members of Tangents don’t spend much time trading off solos. When they build from the quiet base toward propulsive improvisation, they do so together. Drummer Evan Dorrian, who seems to have a hidden arm somewhere that allows him to pull off the intricate and animated rhythms that move New Bodies, does regularly lure and center the listener’s attention on the beat, but he does so through dexterity rather than mere flash. It is a testament to him and the other Tangents — Shoeb Ahmad on guitar, Ollie Brown on electronics, Peter Hollo on cello, and Adrian Lim-Klumpes on keys and bars, all of whom come from other experimental music units — that the desire to stand out among a crew of this pedigree doesn’t get the better of any of them to the disadvantage of the whole.
It isn’t all that much of a stretch to say that New Bodies is unlike any other record you’ll hear this year, or even any other record the band themselves will create again, yet Tangents make catching the equivalent of an entire jar full of fireflies sound like second nature.