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  • Filed under: Review
  • 10/03/2012

Tussle Tempest

Tussle has made a long and respectable career out of refining the art of the jam. Across 12 years, six different incarnations, and 17 or so releases, the band—which always centers around leader Nathan Burazer, and currently features drummers Jonathan Holland and Kevin Woodruff with longtime bassist Tomo Yasuda—has maintained its focus on expansive, Kraut-inspired grooves that sound like carefully crafted instrumental pieces masquerading as freeform jam sessions. Early albums Kling Klang and Telescope Mind explored these ideas from a predominantly organic standpoint, utilizing the triple threat of two syncopated drum kits and a central bassline with subtle undercurrents of electronics filling in the blanks. Tussle pulled a switcheroo on everyone when it brought the undercurrents to the forefront on the comparably nebulous Cream Cuts, which effectively showcased the band's updated vision of live, experimental dance music—even if it did tend to drift into unwieldy tangents of noise making. Four years later, Tempest finds the quartet delving deeper into that electronic realm, and—having honed the tunes with Optimo's JD Twitch behind the boards and reached out to members of Liquid Liquid to collaborate—coming out the other side with what sounds like the destination Tussle has had its sights on all along.

The dubwise influence of Liquid Liquid seems to exist in just about all of Tussle's material to date, but more so is JD's presence felt throughout Tempest. From the clarity of the practically club-appropriate mixes to the rampant use of meaty 808 thumps, the Glaswegian producer's fingerprints mark each of the nine tracks. Thankfully, he never overrides Tussle's longstanding love for psychedelic sprawl or wonky melodic turns. In fact, he seems to bolster those elements while simultaneously whittling them into a more manageable dancefloor format. "Eye Context" is a great example of this, as it's essentially a reimagining of the band's 2003 single "Eye Contact." Once a milieu of spacious grooves and atonal ephemera, the song has been transformed into a galactic party jam with lively patterns of handclaps and percussion, an array of wild sound effects, and more synth timbres than one could possibly catch on first listen. It may not be the best track on Tempest, but it is easily the most balanced between what could be rightly called "old" and "new" Tussle.

Despite heavy doses of cavernous electronics and drum-machine rhythms, opening tunes "Yume No Muri" and "Moondog" will probably be the most familiar to longtime fans, as they boast Yasuda's rigidly funky bass riffs front and center with splashes of live drumming helping to carry the grooves. Fresher territory is uncovered during moments of "P44," "Yellow Lighter," and closer "Lightly Salted," when the quartet puts down its trusty bass rig and dual drum kits in lieu of heavy beats and warped synth melodies. Tussle proves to be a talented bunch in this realm, too, and works out a handful of its reliably tripped-out, retro-futuristic dance jams with an arsenal of machines, samples, and—more likely than not—some pointers from the veteran Scottish producer. What's more, the band now has the command of this organic/synthetic versatility in its toolbelt, often using it to find an ideal balance between highly finessed electronic soundscapes and bouts of raw, physical musicianship. As far as borderline jam bands go, it's hard to think of a better place Tussle could be right now.

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