Tunng

...And Then We Saw Land

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Continuing to edge farther afield from their pastoral past, Tunng's fourth full-length finds the London folktronic outfit weathering a slight reshuffle (essentially a consolidation of their live and in-studio lineups, with the notable departure of founding member/songwriter/habitual non-performer Sam Genders) and emerging in fine form with their fleshiest effort yet. Taking off from its pop-leaning predecessor, Good Arrows, extending that album's broadened instrumental palette and decreased reliance on digital tweaking, And Then We Saw Land ventures in several complementary directions without sacrificing the group's distinctive combination of bucolic folk and whimsical electronic interventions. Right away, the highly hummable "Hustle" marks a clear departure, with whirring synths giving way to a jaunty banjo-led bounce that's the brightest (glockenspiels!) and boldest (drums!) the band has ever sounded. "Don't Look Down or Back" veers between sedate, bittersweet verses and a rollicking group-sung chorus, and is one of several numbers here featuring fiery electric guitars juxtaposed with the group's more typical acoustic fingerpicking -- the most striking case being "Sashimi," whose blend of crunching bursts and pinprick counterpoint stabs (recalling Point-era Cornelius) lives up to the elegant, pungent delicacy of its namesake. Elsewhere, Tunng hew closer to their sometimes somber rustic roots, as on the darkly melodic waltz-ballad "October" and the pensive, downcast "With Whiskey," both of them relatively unadorned, classically styled British folk (notwithstanding the a-ha shout-out in the latter's refrain.) Throughout, but perhaps on these songs especially, And Then We Saw Land makes an excellent showcase for its two fine, understated vocalists, with Mike Lindsay's slightly gruff but soothingly warm, gently accented voice frequently doubled by Becky Jacobs' purer, girlish tones (Jacobs is a newly prominent vocal presence on this album, taking several leads including the sweet, nautical sing-song "These Winds"). And as they've evolved into even more of a collective (this album marks the band's most collaborative -- and notably, lengthiest -- writing and recording process to date), Tunng don't pass up several opportunities for group vocals, most memorably on the beautifully simple, gradually layered singalong at the core of "Weekend Away" (a multi-parter preceding the spare, unlisted closer.) While it's hardly the stark, across-the-board tonal sea change suggested by several of its most immediately ear-catching cuts, And Then We Saw Land is at once an adventurous outward journey and an invitingly familiar return from an always intriguing, intrepid, and under-heralded band.

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