Recording information: San Francisco (2009); The Green Door, Glasgow, Scotland (2009); The Hangar, Sacramento (2009); San Francisco (2010-2011); The Green Door, Glasgow, Scotland (2010-2011); The Hangar, Sacramento (2010-2011).
Tussle took a break after releasing the ambitious Cream Cuts, but they found inspiration in their time off. Contributing the song "Soft Crush" to the 2009 comp Tradi-Mods vs. Rockers: Alternative Takes on Congotronics, the band applied that track's simpler approach to their fourth album, Tempest. While these songs are certainly more stripped-down than any of the band's previous work, and especially when compared to Cream Cuts' dense pile-ons, in its own way Tempest furthers the concept of organic-sounding dance music they developed on their last album. The group enlisted the help of Optimo's J.D. Twitch (fans will remember that Tussle worked with Optimo on 2007's Warning EP) and, even more intriguingly, Liquid Liquid's Dennis Young and Sal Principato to make these songs. While they may be some of Tussle's most streamlined work, they have just as much energy as any of the band's more maximal work. "Yumi No Muri" kicks things off with a rolling, playful bassline from Tomo Yasuda that oddly recalls that of Nilsson's "Jump into the Fire" -- if every other note were missing, that is. As a few instruments -- some brittle guitar here, a whirring synth there -- float in and out between the bass and drums (courtesy of new drummer Kevin Woodruff), the band creates something equally kinetic and hypnotic. Even if songs such the rangy eight-minute workout "Cat Pirate" aren't exactly danceable, they're always moving, and this track gives the impression of rising and submerging as it alternates between sparkling electronics and a rubbery, muted low end. Throughout Tempest, Tussle switch back and forth between mood pieces like the uneasy prettiness of "Yellow Lighter" and the album's versions of dancefloor movers, including "Moondog"'s disco-dub fusion, "P44"'s unique mix of a pensive melody and deep grooves, and the percussion-fest that is "Eye Context," which proves that there's no such thing as too much cowbell even on an album as heady as this one. This push-pull between Tussle's feet and their brains has always been one of the most fascinating elements in their music, and it reigns supreme on Tempest. It might be Tussle's most subdued music to date, but it works equally well as a hypnotic wash of sound and as riveting close listening, especially late at night. ~ Heather Phares