“It’s a beautiful dream.” So goes the chorus that ends “Dream In”, the first track on Tunng’s new album, the appropriately titled Songs You Make at Night. Every track takes the group’s out-of-the-box folktronica deeper into the dark hours, mixing hope, gloom, and unfailingly pleasant sounds that make for a solid and intimate album – the first to feature the full original lineup, including founding members Mike Lindsay and Sam Genders, in over a decade.
Songs You Make at Night is rife with the eccentricities that give Tunng’s brand of otherwise fairly straightforward pop music its particular charms. Inventive samples abound thanks to band member Phil Winter, who incorporates everything from birdsong to the words of late British porn star Mary Millington into an album of careful shadows and structured dreamscapes.
“Dream In” sets the stage with a hint of sobering existentialism (“It is the strangest world / We’re living in”) that only heightens the necessity of escapism (“The people running ’round / With rainbow skulls / Each one contains a separate world”). Tunng plays with this duality for the rest of the album. “ABOP” begins with tight beats and the aforementioned vintage Millington samples, mechanics and romance. It finds Lindsay’s narrator in a thoroughly mundane situation – restless, lying in bed, “the hum of daytime TV / moans like the walking dead” – and then transported into the surreal by sheer longing for something different. Distant voices echo these cravings for the magical, building upon ever more insistent synths that finally give way to ethereal strings.
This exploration of wandering minds permeates the rest of the album. “Sleepwalking” serves up soulful harmonies and psychedelic lyrics, marveling at the creativity to be found in any given human’s subconscious life. Tunng bridges the gap between physical and metaphysical realms with compassion and reverence for humanity where many bands show a much narrower, more negative view of our species. In that regard, Songs You Make at Night serves to place Tunng as spiritual kin to peak Moody Blues or Rotary Connection.
Musically, though, Tunng remains in a class of its own. Blissful “Crow” combines sedate acoustic guitar with the sound of the titular animal; Lindsay’s soft, unadorned vocal delivery grounds the piece as those synths return to add more atmosphere. “Dark Heart” stands out as the album’s center of gravity, a more driving electronic piece that runs headfirst into the less enchanting elements of life, the moments of fear and anxiety – and then reminds the song’s audience that even those experiences are universal, and can be seen not just as hard times, but as human bonding. This is a fight song, a peace song, and, ultimately, a meditation: observe the darker feelings, says Tunng, and remember that they bind the world together.
“Battlefront” is a pensive waltz set to rolling thunder; “Flatland” bemoans a life homogenized by digital artifice as an eerie mix of guitar arpeggios and not-quite-natural sounds take the album further from reality. While “Nobody Here” is another moment of melancholy, “Evaporate” fittingly pulls the album upward, invoking light, soil, and birds as Tunng finds strength in being rooted. “May you never be alone in this darkness,” sing all the vocalists together. “Like Water” shimmers, transcendent as it leads into coda “Dream Out”, a final touch of magic as the night comes to a close.
Tunng might be folk. Tunng might be electronica. Tunng might be all of it and then some. What matters is the fresh musical perspective that, time and time again, the group brings to the table, one that sees beauty in all parts of the world and embraces it. Songs You Make at Night exemplifies the philosophies, aural and otherwise, that make Tunng a band that is easy to appreciate. For all their wonderfully alien sonic elements, Tunng is a band that’s human to the core and can interpret the inherent weirdness of life in a way that makes its strangest moments some of its most comforting.