Painting the picture
San Francisco’s Tussle is at a loss for words
Instrumental music can conjure up different images for different people—partly because there’s no singer to paint them for you as he or she prattles on about heartbreak and social injustice.
For some the image is of a group of musicians who are more concerned with wowing listeners with robotic tempo changes and deep layers of guitar noise. Yes, the soul tends to get lost somewhere in that 5/4 time signature.
But San Francisco’s Tussle has emerged from its Mission District neighborhood with something that feels like it was actually made by human hands. The four-piece’s latest album, Cream Cuts, is a spacey voyage into a sea of atmospheric synth where random bleeps and blips splish and splash. But underneath it all is an organic base of funk bass-lines and tribal drums with nary a guitar to be heard.
Unlike many bands that actually want to capture the live sound on tape, the members of Tussle—synth and sampler Nathan Burazer, bassist Tomo Yasuda and the drum tandem of Jonathan Holland and Warren Huegel—want to give listeners two distinct experiences.
When playing live, the band typically parks the two drummers at the front of the stage, while Burazer and Yasuda add the textures in the back among a pile of cords—one recent review said Tussle hit the stage without saying much of anything, going right to work and laying down the ultimate dance soundtrack, with a mess of maracas, cowbells rattling over synthesized noise.
Huegel says having two drummers makes things texturally more interesting: “Think of a salsa band that has five drummers.”
It’ll sure make people dance. While I’ve yet to experience the live version, on wax Tussle has taken full advantage of the studio. Cream Cuts is the first album with Yasuda and Huegel, who says a lot of what is heard on the record was done in Burazer’s home studio after the basic tracks were finished.
“There were things I’d never heard before,” Huegel said of the final version.
The group hit the studio with producer Thom Monahan, known for his work with the Silver Jews and Devendra Banhart.
Tussle no doubt has an affinity for funk, jazz and Krautrock, and practitioners like Can and avant garde composer Moondog. The result is a tidy marriage of warm, sometimes fuzzed-out bass and tribal drums drenched with psychedelic flourishes of electronic sounds—sometimes you feel you’re at a rave, other times at Studio 54 circa 1978.
It’s the band’s second full-length for Norway’s electronic jazz label Smalltown Supersound. Tussle actually formed in 2001 and released a handful of independent releases including 2004’s Kling Klang, which has since been re-released.
Tussle is currently on a cross-country tour and will land at the Festival in the Forest in Big Sur Sept. 26, with the Silver Jews and Beach House, before coming to Chico to perform with Lemonade and locals West By Swan and Anamnesis at the Crux.
Huegel says the response has been good so far.
“With instrumental music you can paint your own picture.”