Album Reviews

Tussle – Tempest

(Smalltown Supersound) UK release date: 24 September 2012

Tussle - Tempest There’s something to be said for scaling things back. A maximalist approach may have been what drew people to Tussle in the first place, but times have changed, and their fourth album is a much more easy-going listen. This can be put down to a shift in perspective: the band, down to four members since last we heard from them (2008’s Cream Cuts was the last to feature Warren Huegel), have led busy personal lives in recent times; band members have been focusing on their families, as well as taking plenty of time to consider their approach to music making.

The latter point has informed Tussle more than anything else, and these changes all add up to the San Franciscans having altered their focus this time around. They’re mindful of how things have changed for them, and how they themselves want to change and develop as musicians. The resulting album could therefore be seen as rather ironically named, because there is far less tempestuous about this record than we have come to expect. There’s still a tussle, though, and it’s between the different styles the band have decided to explore. Their freestyle methods of making music have largely been thrown out the window in favour of something more sedate.

The album shines the spotlight upon the confident bass work of Tomo Yasuda, whose presence is felt clearly on the opening track, Yume No Muri (which features an exceptionally well-applied vocal sample by Liquid Liquid‘s Dennis Young); overall, the track finds the quartet moving in a more post-rocky direction – the intricate and technical kind, rather than the cinematic kind which the genre has become known for. Yasuda is also at the forefront of Moondog, a track on which the band move in a dancier direction, locking on to a melody and testing it for all it’s worth before changing things up in wonderful fashion around three-and-a-half minutes in and taking things in a noticeably spacier direction.

The byword of the new album is ‘change’, and it’s absolutely everywhere. The function of the band’s two drummers, Jonathan Holland and Kevin Woodruff, has been altered as well. Whereas before they would launch into lengthy and expressive drum solos, the more laid-back nature of Tussle 2.0 has caused them to switch things up, and they are mostly heard on this album providing steady backbeats with the bare minimum of fills or flourishes – simple, steady and effective work that imbues the likes of Cat Pirate with a restless energy. That track provides a shimmering, nagging hook, and proves that Tussle can still tear up the dancefloor when they have a mind to. Some things about the band are immutable, after all.

The album standout is unquestionably Eye Contact, a track which harkens back to the percussive flair of old, its infectious handclap rhythms and arresting bassline providing the most confident and catchy moment on Tempest. Unfortunately, it manages to stick out like a sore thumb either side of the more contemplative P44 and Yellow Lighter, and disrupts the most impressive thing about the album: its flow. It’s a far more subtle listen than what’s come before, and is somewhat of a slow-burner as a result, but it’s not the kind of record that one wishes had more upbeat moments. This new direction from Tussle will disappoint some older fans, but it’s going to reel in plenty of new ones. Time and patience are both required, but this album is worth plenty of both.

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