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Tussle - Don't Stop

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Artist: Tussle

Album: Don't Stop

Label: Troubleman Unlimited

Review date: Jan. 19, 2004

Tussle pretty much floored me the first time I saw them play. Opening up for the Coachwhips I though maybe they’d be a watered down version of the Dwyer ethic – less piss-drunk and less moshing with the audience. They boarded stage with two drummers (one going Duchamp-style with a “ready made,” found object drumkit), bass and a guy behind a table of who-the-fuck-knows cracked synths; started to seep a thick psych groove and my brain immediately shot into alpha bliss. Liquid visuals shifted in the background, and for a moment I was apprehensive thinking, “Wait, are these guys hippies?” Being a recovering high school deadhead and wary of anything patchouli scented, this sent me into a mild panic before I realized it simply wasn’t an issue. Tussle ruled.

Completely bent on the convergence of music, drink and atmosphere I rushed the makeshift merchandise booth and scored “The Sound is Tussle” CD-R and a sweet pin. Nearly a year and one proper 12” (Eye Contact) later, we have the lovely Don’t Stop EP courtesy of Troubleman Unlimited. The CD collects two songs – “Don’t Stop” and “Windmill” – along with three remixes (two on the LP).

Beginning with the most pressing matter at hand, it will be nearly impossible for another single to trump “Windmill” this year, and it’s only January. Slipping in vocal and dub-echo guitar samples “Windmill” freewheels along with an ecstatic, smooth grace. Equally great as a dancefloor rumble or fluorescent pop jam, this kind of non-reckless abandon is hard to come by. Drew Daniel’s “Windmill (Soft Pink Truth Disco Hijack)” exploits the groove elements and thumps a constant, distorted 4/4 beat. Daniel is content to let the original tune do most of the work and intelligently “guides” more than “hijacks” the disco trajectory.

“Don’t Stop” plays slightly to the dark side: a laconic bass phrase overset by minimal, metered electronic pulses. At times the delay is so thick as to crumble the songs’ structure, but direction always resumes. Stuart Argabright (Death Comet Crew) does a gritty reworking of the tune adding some LFO madness and hushed reverb vocals, generally stretching and intensifying some main melodic themes.

The bands’ own “Eye Contact (Version)” runs a greater gamut than the original – starting in with the tiniest of cow bell ticks and gradually working up to a chaotic stomp, buzzed by occasional static drums. Maybe some rethinking and distance from the original contributed to the improvements made here.

These few songs press the crux of the Tussle sound and aesthetic which is, apparently, “if it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing.” The “fun” used here is a somewhat expansive notion in that it extends itself into the social realm. The band has aligned themselves with political movements (they played at Green Party candidate Matt Gonzales’s post-election send off) and art movements (the “Mission School” of their native San Francisco, more a de facto geographic and open-ended collection of artists than a dogmatic monolith). Musically, they don’t deserve to be berated with any term prefixed by “post” or “new.” What seems to define the band is a collective autonomy – there are no indulgent solos (or solos at all, for that matter) and musically the group really does achieve something greater than the sum of its parts. Their willingness to support causes, blur genres and experiment musically is a crucial part of their personality, yet philosophizing becomes all but irrelevant once the music starts playing. And, as some graying bandleader once uttered “the music never stopped.”

By Marc Gilman

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