A quiet and oh-so English revolution has swept through folkie collective Tunng since their last album, 2007’s Good Arrows. Not only have they lost founding member, singer and once-chief songwriter Sam Genders, they’ve added a new lyricist, renewed their acquaintance with electronic experimentation and embraced their inner adventurer. And, like all revolutions before they turn into despotic dictatorships, it’s been a revealing, liberating experience.
It wasn’t easy, however. Troubled by collective writers’ block, they embarked on a tour last year with desert bluesmen Tinariwen, finding common ground in their very different musical heritages that produced a snaky, loose-limbed hybrid of both bands’ work that freed up their minds. Their asses, as George Clinton once predicted, soon followed, and after three albums that gradually toned down the blips and squelches, …And Then We Saw Land is littered with electronic flourishes which take Tunng far beyond the ‘folktronica’ tag they’ve been handed. In fact, if you look at it from the other direction, they’ve become less a folk band with bleepy bits and more the acoustic Hot Chip.
This set is dazzling in its breadth. The most traditional track here, the almost a cappella These Winds, could be a group of pub singers by a forest inn fireside, and yet it’s sandwiched between By Dusk They Were in the City, which features a Thin Lizzy-esque guitar solo, and Santiago, which circles a cute synth melody and looped handclaps. And then there is The Roadside. If it was played by robots it would be hailed as Kraftwerk at their epic best; if it was shrouded in layers of guitars small indie boys would be throwing their caps in the air that Spiritualized’s return was nigh. But it isn’t. It’s largely acoustic but has all the repetitive, explosive, shuddering and gliding hallmarks of a Motorik classic or an indie gospel masterpiece.
Throughout, there is a sense of rebirth, nowhere more so than in the voice of Becky Jacobs. This is the first time on an album she’s taken centre stage, and her new-found confidence swims through everything else.
Tunng were always the eccentric cousins of British folk: a band born in a basement that played seat-of-the-pants shows with Malian freedom fighters, at ease with traditional folk music as cut up loops and samples. That, however, is a world they’ve outgrown. Instead of shadowing the pack, this album puts them right up the front. --Andy Fyfe
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