Music

Tunng: Good Arrows

Dan Raper

Tunng, essentially now a six-piece, continues to mine the organic sounds of folk for something more modern, more vital, today.


Tunng

Good Arrows

Label: Thrill Jockey
US Release Date: 2007-09-25
UK Release Date: 2007-08-20
Amazon
iTunes

Trust the British to press forward the boundaries of folk music again, not towards America's now-outre freak-folk, but instead incorporating subtle electronic effects in a remarkably mimetic approximation of organic life. Last year's poster-boy was Adem. At the time, there was a sense of disappointment out there vis-à-vis Homesongs, but turns out Love and Other Planets still sounds undeniably fresh and sweet. It's not just Adem: artists like Songs of Green Pheasant, and even Field Music, are using folk's repetitive verse structures and gentle instrumentation. Despite its willingness to engage the darker aspects of life, ultimately this music tends to be glass-half-full -- "Have faith in what you choose / 'Cos life can sense your attitude, I don't know how", Adem sings on "Something's Going to Come".

Previously, Tunng has played a relatively minor role in this understated renaissance. The band's instrumental-leaning, electronica-infused compositions purposefully existed on the periphery, occasionally too obvious in its construct -- "let's chuck in a sample here", e.g. In this way, they were closer to mid-level singer-songwriters Jim Noir or Syd Matters than the most sophisticated purveyors of "folktronica". But in the time since last year's Comments of the Inner Chorus, (the group's sophomore album), Tunng has taken a valuable step towards the mainstream of this British folk scene. And the results, at their best, are close to stunning.

Good Arrows is, more or less, the result of an expansion in Tunng, previously (and primarily) a vehicle for musicians Mike Lindsay and Sam Genders. Live, the group expanded, with Ashley Bates on guitar, Becky Jacobs on vocals, Phil Winter on synths, bass and various noises, and Martin Smith on percussion and a variety of other instruments. These musicians have now joined the band for real, contributing to the recording process and infusing Good Arrows with the feeling of a real band effort.

Tunng's songs clearly benefit from this expanded input. First single, "Bricks", buries its steady thread of pop beneath a swirling, complex instrumentation: it's actually really calm, confident, well-considered folk: "All the bricks are bright and elegant and free ... All the doors are bright and elegant and free." The lyrics, throughout Good Arrows, find symbolism and deeper meaning in the everyday -- one of the threads that ties the group's music back to folk. Standout track "Bullets", does incorporate the samples some critics have complained about in the past -- true, they're more distraction than integral to any of Tunng's songs -- but its gentle piano accompaniment pings from speaker to speaker; as the melody rises and the lyrics become more memorable ("We're catching bullets with our teeth ... with the best resources we've got") you realise this is a sophisticated discussion of the modern condition filtered through folk music, with a very modern sensibility. It's great stuff.

The track that reminds most of Adem is "Arms". In particular it's the melody, stretched out to breaking point over what seems an eternity, that shares that artist's static beauty. In the background, the cracking of a wood fire, giving way to full electronic crackles and clicks, reminiscent of Japanese collage artist Takagi Masakatsu. It's true there's nothing particularly groundbreaking about this music -- some guitar arpeggios recall Paul Simon, other electronic flourishes more diffusely familiar -- but it's clear Tunng's music is genuine.

And that's why we'll keep being interested in the band. Clearly progressing from album to album, with Good Arrows Tunng has signalled the arrival of a fully conceptualised group sound. This understated music's got heart.

7

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image