Tunng’s first album gained a rave review in these pages when it came out, already highly anticipated by those who owned their two 7″ releases. As second albums tend to do, this follow-up has a lot hanging on it — but the faithful fans, who’d grabbed their Bloc Party cover and bits & pieces on even more obscure labels, already knew it would deliver. Now that the initial impact of their glitch-meets-English folk sound has worn off, the album’s success is to a large extent dependent on the strength of the songwriting, as well as the sonic ideas. Still, the instrumental track 1’s Four Tet-like soundscape is a great intro to “Woodcat”, which seemed strangely demure as a first single when I picked it up on 7″ shortly before the album’s UK release. But the refrain got pretty quickly stuck in my head, and it’s a decent track on an album with some even stronger songs. This may indeed be a better album than Mother’s Daughter — it’s certainly at least as good.
The strongest songs, such as “Jenny Again”, could easily survive a straight folk performance, but the subtle electronic treatments serve to enhance them. Best of all would be “Sweet William”, with dark cello and diminished chords in the guitar picking; here the innate experimentalism of the folk scene and the concrète and cut’n’paste aspects seem to walk past each other, not entirely interacting until the cello gets caught up beautifully in a glitchy delay at the end. “Engine Room” finishes things off with some more of William Blake’s dark satanic mills, and again the folk singalong, the techno thump and the synth pads somehow remain as separate elements at the same time as holding together as a complete song. Tunng’s aesthetic is made perfectly clear in moments like these, and when you go back to the start for the second listen, they’ve tuned your ears just right.
UK indie stores get a special edition of the album with two extra tracks – at least in its inital pressing run. The two extra tracks are both delightful (both bringing the cutting and pasting a little more to the fore than on the album proper), but Aussie punters shouldn’t be put off, as the 11-track standard version stands well as a coherent and rewarding album.