Tunng, unlike many of their counterparts from the music scene in Birmingham (UK), have one foot placed firmly in the pre-Beatles past, and aren’t afraid to explore their musical heritage. But does merging folk influences and the accoutrements of the digital age actually work?
Mother’s Daughter and Other Songs is a well-crafted album, but there are instances where it sounds as though more work was required for Lindsay and Genders’ imaginative fusion of traditional folk rhythms and guitar-work with modern technology to be truly coherent. The electronica element mostly sits easily, but it can feel occasionally as though the purity of the melodies is curbed by excessive reliance upon samples and beats to embellish something that might be better left alone. This criticism isn’t intended as a Flat Earth Society-esque complaint about modernism per se; it’s more that the balance doesn’t feel quite right except across the album. However, “People Folk” shows Tunng at their best: the song is given room to breathe, with a luxuriously slow beat and clean guitar-strums lend a relaxed air to the song, complementing perfectly the dreamy lyrics – “I touched the lips / and the people fell in love.” In contrast, the opening song, “Mother’s Daughter,” is more problematic, because the rather clichéd electronic percussive effects that punctuate it bring very little to the table except irritation. It’s the musical equivalent of a Whose Line Is It Anyway? improvisation where the performers have to somehow fit an incongruous line or prop into a given situation: here, it is combining folk with scratchy, jangly sounds, and the results are below the standard of the rest of the album.
If you make it past the seemingly random samples at the beginning of the song, “Out The Window With The Window” is more pleasing. The intoned, ponderous lyrics and minimalist beat sit easily together, and this is probably the least “folky” song on the album musically, although the pastoral lyrics imagining skating on a pond are perhaps closest to the roots of what is clumsily described as “folktronica.” The idyllic innocence of the lyrics contrasting with the passive electronica of the music here is far more effective than the group’s attempts to marry two different musical styles elsewhere on the album. Another fine song is “Tale From Black,” an apocryphal piece drawing together medieval imagery of writing on parchment and “cool gentle rain,” and references to “steel cities” and “radios”: the music is purely an accompaniment here, without pretension. Likewise, “Song Of The Sea,” although not an adventurous song, is at least inoffensive and has some beguiling chord changes.
“Kinky Vans” is where electronica is most effectively used, giving the impression it is being gracefully performed rather than clumsily programmed. The string-led melody and crashing, thrumming clicks, thuds and beeps, which occasionally pause to allow the guitar-work to obsess over a particularly intriguing few notes, comprise a thought-provoking interlude before the final three songs. “Fair Doreen” has endearing, soulful vocals and authentically folksy repetition, and is pretty imaginative as love-songs go. Of the final two songs, “Code Breaker” and “Surprise Me 44,” the former feels like filler, whereas the latter is much more rewarding, with lush harmonies and energetic percussion building to a satisfying conclusion.
In short, this is a mostly successful album, with folksy roots and trappings but enough electronica to demonstrate that Tunng aren’t entirely retrospective. Despite the folk label, you don’t have to own a maypole or be a bearded cider-drinker to like them.
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