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Tussle - Telescope Mind

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Artist: Tussle

Album: Telescope Mind

Label: Smalltown Supersound

Review date: Oct. 22, 2006

Tussle make a concerted effort to pare down the heady minimalism of their most apparent influences, yet manage to hit upon fresh ideas with a frequency that always surprises. As the group itself subtly hints with the title of their new LP and its accompanying Intellivision-meets-Op Art graphic design, Telescope Mind is a matter of scale. Each of the album’s 12 tracks begins with the simplest possible statement of its main theme: from the clipped bass figure that opens “Warning” to the bells that announce “Pow!,” it’s hard not to feel that these introductions are effective because they both announce and collapse their own development. The bassline from “Warning” is compelling because, with every subsequent play, the subtle calibration of instruments around this central pattern yields up new aspects and interrelations. Though Telescope Mind’s production is ‘super-flat,’ the way that new ideas approach from a song’s horizon with vector-like certainty and accuracy resembles nothing so much as replaying the first few levels of a familiar video game.

While it doesn’t quite mark a sea change in Tussle’s approach, the dub influence that percolated throughout their early 12”s and first LP, Kling Klang, is downplayed here, with the aural depth of dub replaced by the sense of space and propulsion that characterizes Neu!’s trilogy of albums. Nathan Burazer’s contributions on synth run the gamut between krauty textural washes and broken down, atonal squelches that bring to the surface latent references to East Coast friends DFA and Excepter. On tracks like album opener “Lyre” and “Cloud Melodie,” Tussle recalls both Black Dice’s mellow sonar interludes and the self-generating programming of Cluster. For a band as bass-centered as Tussle, the departure of original bassist Andy Cabic (of Vetiver fame) seems to have done little to upset the balance of the band – drummer Alexis Georgopoulos fills out the low-end here with uptight grooves that also manage to be remarkably supple. The percussion, of course, is impeccable, consisting of both traditional drum kits and found objects (bicycle wheel, buckets, metal), and played by two drummers, very little feels extraneous.

The narratives surrounding groups like Liquid Liquid and ESG – who eked out an existence at the interstices of (and anticipated developments within) New York’s no-wave, dance, and nascent hip-hop scenes – are to some extent indissociable from the musical influence they’ve exerted. Despite mumblings of a new wave of no-wave, the groups mentioned above can seem (perhaps because their high regard in hipster circles) little more than lifestyle accoutrements. It’s mildly ironic that Tussle, whose tone on this album is as frequently pious as it is ecstatic, hail from the West Coast epicenter of hipsterdom – San Francisco’s Mission District.

Yet, for all the points of reference Tussle calls to mind, it’s remarkable how few bands are attempting anything similar. There’s something audacious and yet very humble about being this open about one’s influences. Appropriately, Sal Principato and Dennis Young of Liquid Liquid contribute “marimba, timbales, and slapstick” to album closer “Pow!” Telescope Mind is deliberately and pointedly sweatless, but at its most raucous and at its most reserved, its meticulous beat engineering is totally absorbing.

By Brandon Bussolini

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