English folk rock for the departed.
Tackling death and grief during 2020 is a pretty brave and daring topic to address when the population of the world is seemingly so together yet so very apart at the same time. ‘Dead Club’ is a project that expands beyond the 2020 album and stretches back to their Dead Club podcast from 2018. Interweaving segments of these interviews and discussions with a variety of insights into death and grief through folktronica hazes has created possibly one of the best albums of 2020.
Tunng has long been creating depressing and mysterious folk music but there is also a very British sense of humour to what they do too. It is an acquired dark humour but I’ve always enjoyed it and nowhere is it more present than on this album. It is unusual for me to comment more on lyrics than sound in a musical review because words can mean different things to different people but the strongest element of the album is how thoughtfully different each song paints a lens of death.
‘Eating the Dead’ speaks of a Brazilian idea that you place your dead on a kitchen table. ‘Death is the New Sex’ speaks frankly about death being in vogue (much like mental health) and being commercialised to ‘fuck us all’. ‘SDC’ stands for Swedish Death Cleaning and the lyrics cheerfully offer practical handy tips for clearing out the space of a loved one to spacious guitars and synths and an uptempo beat. Leave it to the clean-edged furniture shops to make a clinical sweep out. The humour and advice collide in a uniquely British macabre way but it also opens the discussion up in your head about things you may never have even thought of.
‘Three Birds’ offers up hazy vinyl spitting keyboards and lush strings to describe grief as a feathered bird that shapeshifts around. It is a moment of hazy beauty and storytelling that breaks from the realism to the abstract for a sparse moment. ‘A Million Colours’ is a far more celebratory view of life with chirpy folk-pop undertones. Throughout, catchy lilting vocal riffs, string arrangements and guitars sway and soar often giving way to these interview snippets – in a variety of languages. Death is universal. This is made palpable with the clean simplicity of the near spoken word ‘Carry You’ with its clarity of taking experiences with you. ‘The Last Day’ is far more pointed, calling you to take action with the life you have instead of being scared for the final hours.
‘Man’ is a fascinating piece. Its poetry is spoken over a gauze of clarinet, piano and acoustic guitar, it dehumanises death and brings out all the little moments of a body closing down. It is a little crass but makes the valid point that the Dead Club grows bigger every single day and we are outnumbered. Whilst the album has the potential to be extremely depressing, its the magical wonder of what makes us human and the things we think of that Tunng include both lyrically and musically that sparks my imagination. ‘Fatally Human’ is a perfect example of this. A majestic string and circus-like piano make us feel like we are sailing the skies whilst a variety of interview snippets layer themselves into a noisy shroud. Each offers their own opinions but ultimately it is the magical journey that makes it memorable. Even if that means in the end, with ‘Woman’, we may be desperate for that final rest and may wrestle with ourselves at letting some go.
There is one final thing Tunng weave into the album secretly that only musicians may initially pick up on. Several of the songs chord progressions are D-E-A-D. I didn’t notice it at first until I tried to play one of the tracks and then my ear tuned into it. One for the musicians absolutely but it shows just on how many levels this project works. Tunng’s Dead Club podcasts are also a treasure trove of golden nuggets. You’ll hear many of them (I could pick out Derren Brown initially) in the album but to dive into things deeply, the eight-part series is a fascinating discovery too.
Tunng’s Dead Club is a really magical and honest discussion and thought process on death. The music is thoughtfully put together in a way that draws you in but places the message first and foremost. The music wraps around the thought process and supports it. It really makes the whole album feel like a cathartic and powerful experience. It is one of the most important albums I’ve come across in 2020 and it’ll feature very highly on my top albums of 2020.
Recommended track: Death is the New Sex
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