There's no way around it: Tussle is strictly about cerebral, ass-shaking grooves. The members of this San Francisco quartet exposed this dedication on their mysterious 2004 debut, Kling Klang, an instrumental record -- similar to Out Hud's debut -- that derived its funkiness from the forefathers of Krautrock, post-punk, dub and minimal techno. Released during a time when the spastic joy of the Rapture's Echoes was becoming a bit outplayed and before LCD Soundsystem began playing in your house, Tussle's effortless refinement of improvised jams gave indie kids a new reason to dance. Two years have passed, and the crew has gone through a significant lineup change. But the grooves still take the spotlight on the band's sophomore album, ushering in an exciting release that is downright fun (how often can you say that about instrumental music?) and a welcome return to uncontrived instrumental rhythms.
And the keyword here is rhythm. The group is made up entirely of a rhythm section: two drummers, one bass guitarist, one electronics expert, and all four handling various percussion, from cymbals to cowbells, buckets to bicycle wheels. For a band that focuses so heavily on tasty bass lines, the loss of original bassist Andy Cabic last year to Devendra Banhart's supporting band and his own solo project, Vetiver, would seem overwhelming. But the band has seamlessly shifted around, with original drummer Alexis Georgopoulos switching over to bass and Warren Huegel taking over on drums. Sonically, I doubt anyone would notice any alterations, and better yet, the reformed lineup exposes a group that is tighter and more accessible.
Although Kling Klang often fell victim to monotonous weariness through dubby meanderings, Telescope Mind is more focused, relying heavily on the timeless grooves set forth by the pioneers of Krautrock and the recent innovators of post-punk. Although the aesthetic remains fairly constant throughout the record, the members of Tussle wisely use every other track to act as an intro/interlude to set up its lengthier successor and allow us to take a breath before heading into its next sonic journey. Establishing this blueprint right from the beginning, album intro "Lyre" kicks off with squelching synths before diving into the aptly titled lead track "Warning." The track clocks in at more than seven minutes, but its sheer funkiness allows the duration to effortlessly breeze by, taking the listener captive through an infectiously simple combination of bass and multiple layers of percussion. Aside from the relentless tribal rumblings of "Elephants," the record's darkest song, Tussle's general attitude is carefree and free-flowing, balancing multiple tracks that hover around the seven-minute mark with poppier grooves confined to less than four minutes.
One of the album's finest pop moments comes on closer "Pow!," where the group is joined by Sal Principato and Dennis Young of Liquid Liquid, an early-'80s no wave band from New York City that emerged out of relative obscurity to contribute a track to a DFA compilation in 2004. Looking back to the torch bearers of early rhythmic instrumental experimentation for inspiration but creating a sound both funky and fresh, Tussle's Telescope Mind may find you shaking your ass or simply nodding (or scratching) your head ecstatically. Regardless of your preferred bodily movements, this is easily one of the best instrumental releases of the year.