Described in broad terms Tussle‘s fourth album, Tempest, is built nearly identically to the three full lengths that come before it. The formula is simple: Its runtime is dominated by long groove-oriented instrumentals. The band’s jigsaw-tight rhythm section provides the backbone of each track and a diachronic array of electronic ornamentation flesh out the body. Unfortunately the album as a whole, modulo a few bright sections, fails to come to life.
It’s tempting to blame this on the album’s producer, JD Twitch. As one half of the eclectic Glasgow-based DJ team Optimo, Twitch is well-versed in how to pack a dance floor. However, it seems that his producing talents don’t play to Tussle’s strengths.
Compare “Eye Context,” one of Tempest‘s singles currently floating around on the internet, with “Eye Contact” a track from Tussle’s 2004 album Kling Klang. The latter drives ahead with polyrhythmic percussion that sounds as if it were recorded in a giant empty warehouse—the drumming alone is so compelling that when a sustained synth buzz drops on top it creates a muscular hook with just two notes. “Eye Context,” however, pales in comparison. The song’s syncopated hand claps and vamping synthesizer are clearly aiming to awaken the listener’s need to move, but even with a cowbell breakdown, it only manages to hit the snooze button.
The same problem is faced by many of the album’s tracks. They just don’t achieve any visceral reaction; instead they sound sterile. Where previous Tussle releases captured the energy of live percussion and played with the range of tone and color the group’s skilled drummers could conjure with their sticks, Tempest leaves no space for such dynamism. On “P44” the rhythm section is contained to one thin beat, while on “Moondog” it remained similarly demure. Both tracks do offer up electronic noodling—alternately airy wisps and grimy buzzes—to compensate, they just don’t make up for the overall lack of energy.
The new approach does succeed in spots. “Cat Pirate” holds your attention for its eight-minute length with an ever-shifting layer of playful synthesizer—at times it even gets delightfully wonky. And the opener “Yume No Muri” manages to create an eerie groove fit for a rave set in a dingy sewer. Though both these tracks would have worked much better as tone-setting bridge pieces in a more traditional Tussle album. The two songs themselves aren’t disappointing; what’s disappointing is they’re the highlights.