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Tangents - New Bodies Music Album Reviews

Tangents - New Bodies Music Album Reviews
The Australian instrumentalists have always used their breathtaking technical dexterity to craft songs that feel like little worlds. Their fourth album fills those spaces with emotion.

The Australian instrumentalists have always used their breathtaking technical dexterity to craft songs that feel like little worlds. Their fourth album fills those spaces with emotion.

At some point during the first three albums by Australian instrumental quintet Tangents, you’re bound to get a bit breathless. Tangents don’t write songs so much as they create little worlds, each one a microcosm teeming with separate but symbiotic ideas, like samples of fertile soil viewed under a microscope. An unorthodox ensemble of keyboards, drums, bells, cello, effects, and electronics, they front-load their pieces with varied sounds: bits of warm folk melody and cold string drone, buoyant trip-hop rhythm and tessellated gamelan percussion. It’s easy to feel buried beneath all these elements or swept away in their inevitable landslide.

On Tangents’ 2013 debut, I, my breathless moment came early, when drummer Evan Dorrian climbed atop a cello-and-circuits din to dance with his kit; on 2016’s Stateless, it was the rising action of “N-Mission,” when drums and electronics coiled repeatedly around a loping pizzicato cello line, teasing a deliverance that never came. Their fourth and best album, New Bodies, overflows with these sensations—of being overpowered and delighted, of being buoyed up and washed away by Tangents’ seemingly endless ideas.

Tangents began as a strictly improvisational ensemble, recording their first two records in single sittings. I documents the first time they ever played together. But for Stateless, they elected to edit that spontaneous energy, clipping and rearranging their improvisations into sophisticated, interconnected pieces. On “Oberon,” they summoned the slow, accretive approach of Australian instrumental elders the Necks, while “N-Mission” recalls the way Four Tet uses florid little themes as the anchors for rising rhythms. But the album sometimes came off as too scripted and fastidious, sucking the early improvisational air from the editing room.

The band takes a similar compositional approach to the seven pieces on New Bodies, but that lost beginners’ energy has returned and even grown. “Immersion” again evokes the Necks, but this time you feel as if you’re in the room with Tangents, lifted in real time as their controlled commotion rises. Serene closer “Oort Cloud” moves like a daydream, with whispering electronics and persistent piano suggesting a minor breeze that rustles the hair on your arms. It is lovely and carefully constructed music that also feels casual and conversational. If you didn’t know these were edits of improvisations, you might assume they were simply remarkable, complicated compositions.

This emerging seamlessness seems to have made Tangents less self-conscious, too. They’ve started to shed their preference for compositional austerity or coolness. “Swells Under Tito” is the most outwardly joyous and funky tune in their catalog. Ebullient drums and a cello that flits between rubbery bass and restless smears lift a West African guitar line, which flashes like a roadside sign inviting you to an all-night party. The guileless tune suggests a discarded Akron/Family or Dirty Projectors demo, meticulously sculpted by a third party into its final prismatic form. During the back half of “Terracotta,” a tune that initially invokes Four Tet’s repetitive ecstasy, pianist Adrian Lim-Klumpes dips into a trio vamp with Dorrian and cellist Peter Hollo, whose plucking somehow elicits the robustness of an upright bass. The passage sounds like Keith Jarrett righteously commandeering the keys of Medeski Martin & Wood. Tangents never seemed the sort to make Saturday cookout tunes, but they sound spectacular testing the edges of their accessibility.

Still, the most significant shift on New Bodies—and the mature move that could push Tangents beyond the realm of instrumental esoterica, like their Temporary Residence labelmates Explosions in the Sky—is a nascent emotional resonance. “Gone to Ground” hinges on the group’s technical excellence. A prepared piano rattles around a bleak landscape of distended drones and disjointed beats, alternating with sections where stately progressions sit inside the rhythms’ rests, finding a bona fide groove. But those threads tangle late in the 11-minute odyssey, forming a knot of rumbling bass, anxious percussion, and aching countermelodies. With its push and pull between rest and restlessness, “Gone to Ground” is a sophisticated musical map of ordinary frustration, complete with a requisite this-too-shall-pass comedown.

Absorbing opener “Lake George” captures the exhaustion that follows a long-cohesive group’s split, without warning, into distinct factions. For the song’s first half, Tangents seem to drift through a reverie, with echoing guitar notes lacing around low cello and steady drums; then, the kinetic Dorrian sprints headlong while the band stands still, dismayed by the sudden departure. As the song fades into what feels like an exhalation, you might be struck by the familiarity of this kind of relationship—a situation that’s contentious to the point of collapse. For years, an emotional narrative like this one would have seemed superfluous for Tangents, a quintet devoted to technical dexterity and clarity. On New Bodies, they allow those sharpened skills to inhabit emerging human forms, a move that speaks as powerfully to the heart as it does to the brain.

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