Three years ago last night, I was James K Polk. Preparation for that night was snorting, smoking and swigging (which, probably quickly devolved into slurping and from there further into supping, then slipping, then, somehow, scabies.). It lead to some questionable decisions but from what I recall, it was a pretty fun night and, miraculously, somehow also a manageable next day. Last night, I was a C.H.U.D, and I poured a few more than a few drinks down the pipes and today I could barely get out of bed. Three years difference. The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir know what I’m talking about.
And I was going to do a post on songs that use interesting alternatives to standard drumset percussion, but I realize that, while I had a lot of those, the whole post would really be an excuse to talk about how much I’ve recently stumbled into love with Tunng. There’s so much to say about this band that I don’t even know where to start.
Tunng are a band weighed down with whimsy. The words they sing are violent, detailed and quite strange, obsessed with the body, physical injury, and death. Yet, in a way I can only think of comparing to Monty Python, the product of such dire and cutting thoughts never feels belabored or even especially sad- there’s a sense of humor and levity that floats through singer Mike Lindsay telling you, in his pleasant deadpan about stars getting stuck in his swollen throat, or the way he catches bullets in his teeth, back, and head, or the way he would cut off his own fingers, and his reasoning for the severing.
The other fascinating thing about many of Tunng’s songs is how cutting edge they are in a wonderfully subtle way. It’s easy to point to music that is on the fringes of listenable and call it cutting edge. There is no question that groups like Black Dice, Dalek, Liars, Grouper and Zu are making sounds that almost noone else is, and that almost noone else wants to listen to. These groups are so intent on breaking through an established limit, either of structure, volume, or length, that they often have to disregard any semblance of accessibility, at least to all but an openminded listener (Full Disclosure: I like all the groups/artists I listed above a lot, so they obviously are having some kind of impact).
There is another way of working to dismantle those same structures, and this way is more subtle, and, on a certain level more subversive. Tunng don’t destroy melodies, or rip up verse chorus verse, and they certainly don’t overstay their welcome just for the sake of overstaying. What the group does is tweak the elements, synthesizing organic instruments with ramshackle percussion and skittery electronic manipulation. Listen to what happens to the guitar part of “Arms” over the course of the song, or the way the moaning vocal sample works it way into “Bullets”. By simply rearranging things, messing with them a little bit, Tunng are able to maintain the coherence and listenability of their pop brethren while also drawing attention to the structures they must operate within, and the limitation of those structures.
See also: the video for bullets.
Also, I saw Vic Chesnutt with his 9 piece backing band a little whiles back (with Guy from Fugazi and a buncha people from Godspeed You Black Emperor and A Silver Mt. Zion), and was awestruck. I mean, it was a shattering experience, uncomfortable at moments, but also extremely moving from begining to end.