Before I start pulling the expected Neu! and Can references out of my ass, I’d like to remind you that Tussle isn’t German nor has it been praised by David Bowie. What I can say about Tussle, though, is that despite the band’s ability to drone (and drone, and drone), they are resourceful, considering what they limit themselves to: a pair of drum kits, a bass, and little bits of, well, bits.
The San Francisco-based four-piece shares a label with fellow experimenters in rock Die Monitr Batss, Erase Errata and the Rogers Sisters. Quite appropriate, because although Tussle has been receiving numerous comparisons to Krautrock groups of thirty years ago, their debut full-length, Kling Klang, though instrumental, fits in with quirky rock bands, label mates included. Sure, they rely heavily on percussion, but that gives Tussle the danceable quality necessary to be marketed as a dance-punk band.
What gives them more of a retro-rock quality, though, is that the only melody comes from a bass. Even without a vocalist, they’d fit in quite nicely on a mixtape with Chi-Pig, Erase Errata or James Chance. Opener “Here it Comes” feels a bit like the first minute of “Contort Yourself,” but looped. Over. And over. And over.
And this is Tussle’s flaw: They’re as tight as can be for a dance-worthy dub-meets-’70s disco-rock band. But they are just that — a dub-meets-’70s disco-rock band. Each of the album’s songs differs from the last, but there’s enough repetition within each that the dub aspect begins to stick out after the first three minutes. And it’s hard to remember a song once the next has passed.
That’s not to say that this is a boring album. Though the most upbeat and generally likeable tracks are at each end, most of it almost sounds like the band has been listening to fair doses of Sandinista. Just as the Clash incorporated reggae, Kling Klang has a decent dub quality, even if too much of a good thing simply becomes too much. Still, the comparison is optimistic, and the men of Tussle have proven on their debut that they’re skilled musicians. If only they could learn to cut off the “tried and true” method.