The third album from this pastoral pop band is a totally immersive record, enveloping the listener in Tunng's "wyrd" world. Taking influences from Icelandic prog rock, choral music, and film soundtracks, "Good Arrows" marks a significant development for Tunng - they've expanded beyond the awkwardly applied folktronica label to become a full-fledged (if experimentally skewed) pop band.
Review by Marisa Brown
For their third full-length, Good Arrows, British six-piece Tunng continue to deliver the same combination of folk, pop, and indie electronica that earned the band the description of "folktronica." Lightly programmed beats and blips pepper the acoustic guitar arpeggios that give the songs their base, as Sam Genders' soft vocals layer over themselves and those of the backup singers and the myriad other instruments that twist and squirm their way into the compositions. Kalimba, hammer dulcimer, clarinet, eclectic samples, and electric guitar all manage to find their way in, but they're arranged in such a way -- gently, sparsely, deliberately -- that nothing ever seems cluttered or ornate. This is helped in part due to the attention paid to structure here, because even with the noises and distractions and long stretches of space, there's a cleanliness to the songs, verses and choruses and even the occasional hook all playing an important part in the album's overall effectiveness. The fantastic "Bullets" almost seems like it could be by the (later) Beatles, with the line "We're catching bullets in our teeth/It's hard to do but they're so sweet" pushing itself into the foreground as the one-two piano rhythm beats out playfully behind. Not every track on Good Arrows is as immediate as this, but all have a contagious, subtle beauty that makes them impossible to ignore, even as Genders sings explicitly about body parts, focusing on the visceral perhaps as an attempt to accommodate for what he cannot understand. "He crawls into her aorta.../He crawls like a rat inside her spine" he sings in "Hands," only later to bluntly state "One day we will be dead," almost as if he was trying to avert the unavoidable by exploring and rebuilding the body himself, or in "String," where he and vocalist Becky Jacobs sing of being lost in themselves, "Hang my eyes up on a hook.../Inside my own skin I fail to find myself again," as wind instruments and minor keys swirl around darkly behind. But even with all this, the obsession with the corporeal, with death, the album ends on a lighter note, as if Tunng realize that life isn't all bad, isn't simply the path to the inevitable finish. "It's fine if we are by our side," Genders sings, which, despite the triteness of the statement, provides a nice ending to the record, lighter and breezier, balancing the concern with enjoyment, and making Good Arrows a very complete album indeed.
[Thrill Jockey; 2007]
Coming of age at a time when electronic and folk music were increasingly assimilating, Tunng's Mike Lindsay and Sam Genders-- like predecessors Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong of the Books-- took an opposite tack, creating acoustic/electric folk that prided itself on showing its seams. It was hard to tell in which direction Tunng would head after the well-received Comments of the Inner Chorus, but as their third record Good Arrows shows, the band never fully embraced the Dadaist aesthetic they started with. Instead, they've proceeded fully toward the British prog-folk idiom that was always a staple of their sound, with Lindsay dotting Genders' furry, monochromatic vocals with electronic irregularities, samples and stylistic flourishes.
Arrows is warmer and fuller-sounding than anything Tunng's released, relying on isolated, strummed acoustic guitars that feel like they're floating in space as its primary aural component. Lindsay's bric-a-brac is still present, but it's largely subsumed to some of the most fleshed-out songs the band's yet created. "Bullets" instantly ranks as the best song the band has ever made, and not just because it's the most richly melodic and traditionally-structured (although that doesn't hurt). It's also because the band's stab at a Beta Band/Super Furry Animals UK pastoral oom-pah fits them perfectly well (not hurting at all that Genders' voice, the record's second most prominent sonic element, falls somewhere between that of Gruff Rhys and Steve Mason). "Bullets" is followed by "Soup", which follows a chiming, electro-acoustic first half with the first sighting of an electric guitar yet on a Tunng record; the second half rocks out to the same melody. As a result, this one-two punch contrasts sharply with its more dour surroundings, the equivalent to stumbling upon a rural carnival on a sparsely populated countryside.
Tunng's motion toward more traditional songwriting results in some occasionally pretty moments, but also in most of the music blending together in a dour haze. Genders' isn't a particularly strong tunesmith, and the vocal melodies here seldom rise above the simple pleasantness of his voice, smartly paired with Becky Jacobs' airy tone. Lyrically, he falls too often into the trap of telling too much when the songs would be better served by just showing, especially with Lindsay's expressive arsenal of effects at hand. At the end of "Hands", for instance, his repetition of the line "all the little stars" sounds like an accidentally left-in production cue for a section that would work better instrumentally, and as "Arms" threatens to brush up against big epic territory in its second half, Genders anticlimactically repeats the most prosaic refrain: "here I go again."
Lindsay's pallette does come in quite handy on a few songs, however; like Tarwater, he works with Genders' pallid vocals to make humid and occasionally acrid, antique and murky music. "Take" has the creakiness of an old home and occasional swells of what sounds like a decaying piano, and the barely perceptible atmospherics on "Arms" are drawn partialy from a sample of a crackling campfire. In the end, however, although Good Arrows is aimed in the direction of a synthesis between the band's two predominant elements, the result misses the target by just a bit.
-Eric Harvey, October 09, 2007