Tunng have never shied away from the troubled side of life in their lyrics. Turbines, however, sees their music take a darker tone than previous outings. Perhaps best known for their 2007 third album Good Arrows, the folktronica band’s fifth studio LP retains the iconic elements of their sound, but in a more downbeat fashion.
In early tracks, Ashley Bates’ vocals mimic Sam Genders’ lower register, the understated electronic backtrack is deeper and less imposing than usual and the percussion has an dampened tenor. The album’s opener Once has a bold chorus that screams single, but a lack of energy leaves it feeling flat. It struggles to hook you in on first listen, although does improve on second and beyond. Similarly, Trip Trap and By This drag their heels, suggesting a lack of enthusiasm for the songs.
Fourth track The Village is where the album starts coming into its own. The lyrics carry a dose of cynicism, while the strong guitar rhythm punctuated by simple handclaps drives the song forward. Bloodlines continues the more uptempo theme, before yielding to the organ and xylophone-peppered Follow Follow.
The standout track is the poignant and nostalgic So Far From Here, which switches between delicate melodies and punchy, rhythmic guitar and bass, adding a sense of urgency. If more of the tracks encapsulated the interplay of elements on this and The Village, the album would undoubtedly feel more rounded and developed. Embers is a subtle, atmospheric track that brings the pace back down for the outro, Heavy Rock Warning, which finishes the album on ghostly note, with a hint of bluesy psychadelia.
If Good Arrows was an album for a summer’s day at dusk, Turbines is an album for an autumn with brown leaves mulching on the pavement. There’s charm in it and it undoubtedly improves as it progresses, but the darker flavour leaves it sounding cold at times. It has potential running through it that’s never quite realised.
Turbines has merit, but doesn’t quite live up to the quality of Tunng’s back catalogue. It is definitely worth a listen, but those new to the band may enjoy the album more than existing fans. The real test for the Turnbines will be the band’s tour later this year. They’re known for phenomenally atmospheric and immersive live performances, so it will be interesting to see if the tracks translate better on stage than on record.