||This is Tunng...Live from the BBC
||2 December 2011
||Full Time Hobby
Live albums are usually for the pre-ordinated listener but on their BBC sessions, Tunng bring forth a simple introduction to their work without wavering far from the studio albums. Live from the BBC collects the best bits of their recorded material from about 2004 onwards and vaguely reinvents them for the uninitiated. So once you’re over the preliminary live bias, is the music any good? Well yes and no.
There’s a fine line between being twee and emanating genuine emotion and edge for many so called ‘Folktronica’ artists. As for Tunng, they’ve skirted this line throughout their careers. Main songwriter Mike Lindsay brings forth strange folk melodies amongst an array of glitches, blips and programmed percussion that get to the heart of what the band are about.
'Take', the opener, has a murky momentum that has at least an amount of quirkiness that keeps the listener from snoozing under Lindsay’s sub Gruff Rhys voice. Ably abetted on backing vocals by Becky Jacobs, sister of Max Tundra, Lindsay carves out a jaunty yet dark number in 'Bullets' that delves through the English heartland of weird folk to fine effect. 'Jenny Again' showcases Tunng’s softer touch. Almost a lullaby, the emphasis on the acoustic guitar makes the track breezy, warm and simultaneously quaint.
'Tamatant Tilay' teams the band with Malian outfit Tinariwen for a cross cultural exchange. The bluesy, Bluegrass stylings work beautifully with the thick hand percussion and contrasting vocals of Lindsay and the West Africans. They all seem to be enjoying themselves and complimenting one another in the mantra like cyclical rhythm. This is fast world folk played with jovial easy grace.
The sounds of the seas and boats feature heavy amidst folk repertoire but on 'Beautiful & Light' the artists sound more like an acoustic version of The Postal Service as they navigate amongst the sea samples and delay percussion effects. This is probably the best recreation on the collection and features yearning violins and mournful harmonium that compliment the well crafted melody.
Unfortunately 'Hustle' doesn’t expand on the goodwill built up on previous tracks as it sounds like some banner tune for new age hippies in its ‘nice’ duelling male/female vocals that dance gently along to the good time acoustic licks. However the next track 'With Whiskey' returns to maudlin surroundings to haunting effect. This has a strange death quell quality in that the duel voices now sing with dread along with some sorrowful guitar.
The perennial folk theme of nature had to show its ugly head sooner or later and so it does on 'Jay Down'. Despite some lovely water like finger picking the song lacks any real edge or anything that would stimulate a re-listen.
A cover of Bloc Party’s 'Pioneers' is an unexpected joy although if a bit typical in its execution. Again the sprightly nature takes care of proceedings as the breathy vocals and minor blips turn the song into a removed slice of organic electronica. Overall it’s wholly likable and welcome.
Another cover comes forth in the shape of Blue Pearls 'Naked In The Rain'. This, once more, is catchy if not a little subtle or undercooked (depending on your kindness). Happily the percussion is thumping and propels the easiness of the song along nicely. But how many times can you produce ‘nice’ without substance?
The end song, 'Surprise Me' is excellent and has all the elements (heart, soul, edge and melody) that some of the latter half of the album was lacking. The acoustic electronica is well served here and if all their songs were as good as this maybe Tunng would be worth looking out for in future.
In conclusion despite some easy on the ear melodies and attempts at dark twisted folk this is not a band to love. Kudos must go to the clean and crisp production of the live sessions (maybe the praise should go to the BBC engineers?) although this is a double edged sword; because the production was so good or faithful, I for one can say I know what the band are about and probably won’t be listening to them much in the future. As for existing fans this will be an excellent collection to have.
- Tim Gannon