Subverting the expected folk tropes and blending them with finely produced electronics and intensely considered programming is how Tunng managed to carve their niche and broke onto a British music scene in 2005 that was obsessed with run-of-the-mill indie rock bands.
Delicate, introspective and experimental, Tunng built a name upon their ability to intertwine vibrant tapestries of folk with warbling touches of electronica, with their debut record ‘Mother’s Daughters and Other Songs’ widely seen as a cornerstone of the movement that came to be known as ‘folktronica’.
Following founding member Mike Lindsay’s recent foray into experimental folk in a collaboration with Laura Marling (Lump), ‘Songs You Make at Night’ represents the band’s first release in five years, and further to that, the first record with fellow co-founding member Sam Gender (previously seen operating under the ‘Diagrams’ moniker) in over a decade.
When discussing the record, Lindsay spoke of his wish to recapture the "real magic in the early records". This sentiment comes as no surprise with ‘Songs You Make At Night’ clearly resembling the product of two people enjoying the opportunity to be creative in each other’s company again, only content when flexing their artistic muscles through the use of carefully selected samples and adroitly arranged instrumentation.
There’s a sense of mystery and weariness that intoxicates the record. From the immersive pull of ‘Dream In’ to the ambient frills of ‘Dream Out’, ‘Songs You Make At Night’ is crammed with intriguing left turns, glacial synthesisers and dizzying soundscapes.
The stompingly restless, bass heavy ‘ABOP’ proves an early highlight as it immediately constructs an air of late-night mystique via a sample taken 70s pornographic actress Mary Millington. A fun headbopper of a track yet with a sharp off-kilter and slightly weird edge.
Elsewhere, ‘Sleepwalking’ carries with it a sense of night time contemplation over light electronic grooves, as Lindsay sings of how “everything is harder to do when it’s either wrong or right”. An insight into the thinly veiled sense of pathos that lies at the heart of the record. A theme best exposed in the album’s stripped down reflections, from the pastoral folk sincerity of ‘The Crow’ to the atmospheric ‘Battlefront’ which allows for ambient whispers and distant synth bleats fill the air and offset the pleasant fingerpicking acoustic guitar at the song’s centre.
However, these moments do also allow for the lyrics to come to the fore in a fashion not otherwise afforded due to the overflowing production. Whilst the gentle delivery and sentimental imagery does have its strengths. When pried into, much of the expressionistic lyricism can appear rather vague in its execution and at times nonsensical or overly twee. Thus, contributing little to the over-arching theme of the album other than possibly reinforcing the disjointed landscape of one’s dreamlike states.
It’s tracks like ‘Dark Heart’, with its infectious clubby beat and killer pop hooks where ‘Songs You Make at Night’ really hits its stride. Allowing for the band to truly express their musical chops by means of luscious, pensive orchestration. A seductively glimmering synthpop tune with a lingering dark side that embodies the lurking hedonism within the album’s nocturnal aesthetic.
The similarly painstakingly constructed and earthy ‘Flatland’ features processed guitar lines that work in tandem with spiralling synth patterns and kaleidoscopic soundscapes to forge a claustrophobic sense of euphoria. The sound of trickling water seeps through the speakers in the intro to ‘Nobody Here’ before an off-kilter organ lick works to further the dreamscape Lindsay and co. have so expertly woven.
The lyrics, doused in effects echo that sense of uncomfortable serenity, whilst again harking back to the nostalgic imagery of Lindsay’s childhood thoughts before a series of accented acoustic guitar strums erupt into a delightful flickering trip hoppy breakdown. An album highlight and a fine example of the pure invention of folktronica and in particular, Tunng’s expert ability to interlace such rich textures and finely balanced dynamics.
As with much of Tunng’s body of work there also exists a pronounced strain of Britishness that runs through the fabric of the album as represented by its evocation of vivid scenes from a relatable British countryside and childhoods spent there.
This is underlined further on penultimate track ‘Evaporate’ with its Beatles-esque horn section and tendency to sway towards the bombastic whilst also remaining heavily rooted to the simple bucolic space that the record predominantly operates within.
‘Songs You Make At Night’ is an apt title. A record that lands with such hazy panache, transporting its listener into a nocturnal wilderness where dreams are limitless. The record is undoubtedly a strong return to form for the folktronica vanguards and potentially the signalling of a second coming for the band. Its testament to the creative vision of Tunng that they can make the dark appear so colourful.
Words: Rory Marcham
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