‘The Songs You Make At Night’, Tunng’s sixth studio long-player, has been on heavy rotation on the ES stereo since it arrived a while back. Mentioning in passing that we’ve been listening to it a fair bit, the reaction has been surprising. People were suddenly frothing at me, excited by not only the new album, but ready and waving tickets for the forthcoming autumn live shows.
Tunng, it turns out, are something of a best-kept secret. Not a showy outfit by any stretch, it does seem as if they’re one of those bands people like to keep to themselves. If they’ve discovered them at all.
Since forming some 15 years ago, their members have been scattered from Cornwall to Iceland and had fingers in a raft of side projects alongside the day job. Boy, are there some tangled webs, more of which in a bit. Crucially, ‘The Songs You Make At Night’ sees a return to the fold of singer/songwriter Sam Genders, who co-founded the band along with production wiz Mike Lindsay (on these pages of late thanks to his LUMP collaboration with stroppy indie popstrel Laura Marling) back in 2003.
Completing that original line-up is, on singing duties, Ms Becky Jacobs (Max Tundra’s sister, no less. Interesting chap Max, but that’s one for another time), on the drums, Mr Ashley Bates (of shoegaze royalty Chapterhouse), on everything from clarinet to percussion, Martin “Mr Multi-Instrumentalist” Smith and on electronic duties, Mr Phil Winter, a name anyone stepping on Electronic Sound shores will know only too well.
The mood of the record, say Genders and Lindsay, fluctuates between night and day, the conscious and unconscious.“It’s important to stress it’s the songs you make at night not, we make at night,” explains Lindsay. “The word ‘songs’ can mean a multitude of things. It can mean songs, or dreams, pillow talk or actions and decisions… the thoughts that keep you awake at night.”
It seems to pick up where this line-up left off with 2007’s ‘Good Arrows’. When Genders departed for projects/pastures new, both 2010’s ‘… And Then We Saw Land’ and 2013’s ‘Turbines’ were pretty acoustic based, with the electronics dotting an “i” here and a crossing a “t” there. Those records sounded like a detour rather than progression. This sounds like the natural follow-up to ‘Good Arrows’.
Perhaps you can put it down to the reunion reinvigorating everyone, or maybe it’s the rising stock of Lindsay as a producer or maybe it’s because there’s noticeably less folk, more ‘tronica.
We came to Tunng via the aforementioned Phil Winter, who ploughs a tidy synthy furrow with Wrangler alongside Benge and Stephen Mallinder. That particular meeting came when Lindsay was working out of his old pal Benge’s east London studio upon returning from his Icelandic adventure (there was a girl, you see). Which we suspect is how Phil met Benge, the rest of that tale you know. You want more tangled webs? How’s this? So Benge plays Moog on Lindsay’s LUMP album, Lindsay produced Hannah Peel’s first album and, et voila, Peel is on the LUMP record too.
Anyway, with this albm, it seems that Winter is poacher turned gamekeeper, the renegade, the man with the boxes of tricks. Listen to previous outings and the electronics are subtle, with the ping of a guitar more likely to be front and centre that the thrum of a Moog. Here, that’s on its head. The “folk” is still in evidence (see the sweetly bleak ‘Battlefront’ and the Nick Drake-ish ‘Crow’), but it’s the synth that’s the star.
From first track ‘Dream In’, a stall is set out that should have an orderly queue stretching round the block before the doors even open. It’s a track that crackles with warmth, Sam’s lone vocal and gentle keys are slowly added to until the whole thing opens up into a song as big as house. On the glitchy ‘Flatland’ the electronics form a delightfully twitchy backing track, while the hypnotic ‘Evaporate’ descents into a mesmeric ball of distortion and a deep growl of an outro. The dark rasp of ‘Nobody Here’ is close to being the standout, but it’s ‘Dark Heart’ that you’d call the hit, if pushed. It’s a seriously classy, uptempo belter that builds to a total hands-in-the-air chorus. The sort of thing that’d stop you in your tracks if heard at a festival.
With that whole best-kept secret in mind, we read that Tunng are big in France. On the strength of this, it’s high time they were big at home. ‘The Songs You Make At Night’ might just do the trick.