Now having worked together for a full decade, Tunng are a band fortunate enough to have honed their idiosyncratic sound over the long term. Turbines is, remarkably, their fifth album, and whilst it’s not sufficiently radical for them to shake the folktronica tag with which they have often been burdened, it does see a further broadening and sharpening of their musical palette.
Mike Lindsay has claimed that there is an overarching concept behind Turbines – that of a fictional village. There are obvious precursors for this – The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society and Neil Young’s Greendale being just two examples. Typically for Tunng, this imagined locality appears to be a space characterised by eccentricity. The group’s soft, wispy unison vocal lines create a lulling, gentle sense of security that belies the weird and unnerving aspects of this world (the “smoke and sleight of hand” in Follow Follow, or the runners who “never feel like liars” on So Far From Here).
The band constantly tread a fine line between eerie romanticism and tweeness but, for the most part, they mostly steer a careful, steady course on Turbines. The opening Once is a lovely, insistent earworm, built around a gently repetitive ostinato figure and gently fluttering textures. Perhaps best of all is Bloodlines, with its layered, chanting vocal, rolling fingerpicked guitars, deft military drumming and evocative, peculiar central narrative. It’s a delicate but agile piece of music, well crafted and absorbing and demonstrating the band’s gift for sensitive arrangements.
Within these arrangements, the electronic and acoustic sound worlds are mostly well integrated (particularly the rustling that underlines the clipped rhythms of So Far From Here), but there are the occasional moments that do jar. All the sweeps and whooshes on The Village threaten to undermine the song’s straightforwardly infectious chorus. That the last sound we hear on Turbines is the bloops that gradually emerge from Heavy Rock Warning also feels a little false – a fairly artificial way of creating a more uncomfortable sensation.
Whilst the prettiness in Tunng’s music can often be deceiving, it can also become a little oppressive after a while. The sound world can feel a little too bright and cute. They are at their best when tiny moments pierce this impression, such as the exquisite Embers, where just a couple of unexpected note choices define the entire mood of the song. The stately, otherworldly, quietly menacing closer Heavy Rock Warning, at least until its ending, also offers a more complex mood and an effective contrast.
At just 39 minutes, Timbers feels as if it might possibly be able to offer more – it feels as if we are only afforded a partial glimpse into this mysterious mythical world. But perhaps this is a good state in which to be – left with a sense of wanting more, where questions remain unanswered and an atmosphere of investigation without definitive conclusion seems to pervade.