Tunng

This Is...Tunng: Mother's Daughter and Other Songs

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The debut album from London's Tunng, following several singles from which only two tracks are reprised here, presents ten alluring glimpses into the already fully formed and distinctive soundworld they would continue to explore and develop on future releases: in essence, gently pastoral acoustic folk, liberally garnished with electronic flourishes and warpages. It's a style that finds clear parallels in the work of New England's the Books -- in particular, the intermittent found-sound snippets and spoken word samples (that's Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso reading from their poetry in "Out the Window with the Window") make that connection unmistakable -- but has few other obvious comparisons. Which doesn't mean it's hard to classify: indeed, the genre tag "folktronica," which had entered into general usage several years before Tunng's emergence, never had a more apt referent. The electro-acoustic IDM of folktronic pioneer Four Tet, which is briefly recalled here by the glitchier, beat-driven portions of the instrumental "Kinky Vans," may have incorporated organic elements, but that hardly seems sufficient to qualify it as folk. Apart from outliers like Adem (a singer/songwriter whose electronic aspects are relatively superficial), few if any of the loosely defined style's practitioners have conducted their genre-blending escapades with so firm a foundation in conventional folk songcraft. Song titles like "Fair Doreen," "Tale from [the] Black," and "Song of the Sea" impart a sense of quaintly provincial antiquity, and indeed each of these numbers unfurls a lilting, somewhat dirge-like melody redolent of traditional English balladry; each one also sports the band's trademark cleanly fingerpicked guitar work -- the latter also embellished with banjo and harmonica (and underscored, characteristically, with a subtle pitter-patter of clicks and claps that might be electronic or acoustic or some combination of the two, as well as distant, scratchy announcements and sudden bursts of canned laughter). But despite the group's archaistic bent, there's nary a trace of sticky nostalgia here, which is due as much to the sympathetic but unsentimental vocals -- many of them delivered in Sam Genders' gruff, but not tuneless, deadpan, and often doubled -- as it is to the barrage of electronic intrusions. Actually, "intrusions" is a bit misleading, even if it does often feel as though the samples and effects are churlishly disrupting perfectly self-sufficient indie folk songs -- in fact Tunng have achieved such a natural, timely fusion between two disparate musical approaches that if they didn't deliberately hijack your attention from time to time, you might not even notice the seams. It's a neat trick that they make look easy, and as good as they are it's hard not to wish that the constituent components of that fusion were even stronger -- the songs are amiably tuneful and lyrically intriguing, but on their own terms they fall somewhat short of spectacular; the programming is accomplished but never truly breathtaking -- so as to make this album as impressive on all fronts as it is in its utterly unique overarching aesthetic (which is very clearly its defining feature). But what is here is certainly fascinating in its own right, enough to make this an excellently compelling and promising debut.

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