Album Reviews

Tunnels – The Blackout

(Thrill Jockey) UK release date: 15 August 2011

In the midst of the electropop revival that has been in fashion for the last few years, everyone seems to have forgotten about the early part of the ’80s. Back then electropop was still in its experimental phase. They were good times. Gary Numan was making strangely hypnotic tunes both as himself and with Tubeway Army and the building blocks of post-punk were also being formed by bands such as Gang Of Four, Joy Division and The Cure. Later on the in the decade many would add more layers and polish. But some of the naïve nature of those early artists was almost erased completely.

This exciting period of music hasn’t been forgotten by Tunnels, aka Nicholas Bindeman, who is the frontman of Eternal Tapestry in his day job. His first solo release, The Blackout, is a brisk slice of cold, dark electronica – it only clocks in at 28 minutes – and is refreshing alone purely for the reason that OMD, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell and others like them are not obvious influences. It sounds incredibly lo-fi – it’s very easy to picture a guy working in a cramped bedroom surrounded by a sea of equipment. Or, perhaps more likely in this day and age, just a Macbook and Garageband.

So, what of the songs? The opening gambit of Crystal Arms transports you to a time when icy synths were the most exciting thing in the world whilst Volt 1979 and How I Hate You both contain a prominent bassline that leads the charge. There are guitars, but they’re not used in an obvious way. In Deux they’re used not so much for chords but for sound effect. The closest we get to any kind of grandiosity is Solid Space, complete with old school laser effects here and there, and it stands out for deviating from the record’s ‘standard’ songwriting formula.

But there is filler that hampers the listening experience considerably. Magic Flowers, even though it isn’t quite as retro-fied as the other tracks, is a droning bore; Dead Ringers is a scarcely any duller and Moon Bombs is annoyingly tedious. Once you remove these duds what you’re left with is… well, not very much. It begs the question whether or not this would have been better off being an EP than a fully-fledged LP. If that was the case then the overall results might have been a bit more engrossing and it possibly even have allowed Bindeman the confidence to put his own spin on proceedings.

It’s a real shame that once you get past the initial excitement factor of The Blackout you’ll realise that there isn’t anywhere near the amount of material to constitute a great album, but there are a few download-worthy tracks that shouldn’t be scoffed at. There’s enough in there to make you think that Tunnels is capable of something far better than this work suggests, but time will tell whether that potential is realised.

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Tunnels – The Blackout