Comments of the Inner Chorus

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Tunng's sophomore outing finds the folktronic fabulists further exploring and refining the distinctive, gently whimsical blend of pastoral acoustic folk, electronic programming, and musique concrète that they unveiled on earlier releases. Recorded as the group was in the process of evolving from a duo (Sam Genders and Mike Lindsay, who had recorded Tunng's debut album This Is...Tunng: Mother's Daughter and Other Songs in the basement of a clothing shop) into a somewhat loose but stable six-member collective, the differences in their fundamental approach are minimal -- thankfully so, as Tunng's style is essentially unique and utterly entrancing -- but there's a welcome added warmth and fullness to the sound. There's also an increased sense of cohesion to many of the compositions, making this a more organic record in feeling and form if not, technically speaking, in sonic content: the band's electronic side is still very much in evidence, though in general it serves as a congenial complement to the songs' acoustic-instrumental core rather than a competitive counterforce (the electronics would become substantially less prominent on Tunng's third album, the more sedate Good Arrows). On the other hand, the eclectic array of noises and found sounds -- clicks, whirs, blips, scrapes, scuffs, jangles -- are just as likely to be organically derived as electronic; one of the new members, Martin Smith, is credited with "beads, reeds, bells, shells, bones, stones," and it may well be his contributions that occasionally call to mind Califone and their unorthodox approach to percussion. The richness of its sonic detail aside, this is easily Tunng's strongest offering for the simple reason that it features their finest batch of songs to date, which rightfully take center stage. Apart from the short introductory "Hanged" (which builds up a dizzying, jumbled mass of noise before spilling over into the initially placid-seeming "Woodcat"), and the beguiling instrumental "Stories" (something of a statement of purpose for the album, with the chopped-and-spliced spoken word sample "songs, stories, magical words"), each track is a fully realized song. Many of them feature melodies that could pass for timeless English folk tunes, in particular the cryptically titled group singalong "It's Because...We've Got Hair." If there's an obvious standout, though, it has to be "Jenny Again," a perfectly formed gem of sweetly chiming acoustic guitar balladry that recalls John Lennon or Simon & Garfunkel at their sweetest. That is, until a closer listen to the lyrics reveals it to be a sort of twisted murder ballad, sung from the perspective of a dead or dying man, imagining his killer's blissful future life with his own erstwhile lover, as he lies bleeding. It's classic Tunng device, and a conceit they employ masterfully throughout this album, using musical sweetness and pastoral imagery (the album is dotted with references to woodland creatures) to mask the dark and disturbing content of their unsettling fairy tale narratives. Ultimately more quirky than off-putting, it's a wry, amusingly macabre sensibility that mirrors their peculiar yet mesmerizing musical synthesis.

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