For those down with songwriting, the dance floor thump of modern electronic music has rarely offered much of a haven to seek solace in…though assimilation with more traditional elements over the last few years is certainly doing its’ part to help champion converts. Genre benders like Beta Band, Books, LCD Soundsystem, and Hot Chip have all come of age with honest to god folk tucked away somewhere near the central nervous systems of their bodies of work. Now tack East London’s Tunng on to this collection of notable exceptions. A four-years and counting collaboration between electronic guru Mike Lindsay and his singer/songwriting cohort Sam Genders, the duo has sprouted a few more members, and recently released their third proper album for those fine, fifteenth anniversary celebrators over at Thrill Jockey. Not to take a piss on the party, but unfortunately Good Arrows ultimately reveals there are better ways to commemorate such a storied franchise of recordings than with this album.
Things don’t sound so grim for Tunng at the onset of the record. While flaunting a few seconds worth of mystery at first, opener “Take” eventually settles into hearty acoustic guitar lines and Gender’s slight push and pull vocals. Queue more phrasing from the sweet sounding Becky Jacobs, and the track is all texture and light hearted melody. Right on its’ heels comes “Bricks”; a song of equal intrigue, frothing over with a video game bass line and off beat, bobble head guitar chords. Sounds good, right? It is…until the listener has a scant and bare bones flop like “Hands”, on their hands. Heavy on an awkward melody that has difficulty standing alone, light on the accompaniment that assures this is not a possibility, the track disturbs the quirky cohesiveness the band worked so hard to put into place with the album’s first two songs. Not only that, but Tunng’s tendency to pair such dainty duds (“Arms”, “Secrets”) with real curiosity peakers (“Bullets”, “King”), is repeated time and time again...frustration!
Therein lay the problem with Good Arrows; only half of the album’s 11 songs ever really hit their mark. Those that do, do so because they are rubbed up with redeeming window dressing…eclectic samples, programmed blips and beeps, hammer dulcimers, clarinets, electric guitar, etc etc. But those that skimp on such vital embellishment fail to attract the same kind of attention as their high-water counterparts. So, as the kegger at Thrill Jockey no doubt rages on over the next few weeks, let’s hope it at least plays out to the tune of only the very best Good Arrows has to offer. Otherwise, the label might find the good times (and their very own legacy) take a bit of a dive. - David Pitz