Close to the varying shades of darkness conjured by The Birthday Party and Portishead, Tu Fawning’s A Monument delves deep into pop music’s more shadowy territories, bringing with it a vibrant collage of musical references. The Portland quartet’s sophomore album is both overdriven and ethereal, both solemn and theatrical. Its songs jump through time and space, skipping from psychedelic rock to twisted carnival procession music to modern American folk. The use of antique samples, 80’s synths, distorted marching band-esque percussion and sounds from other such disparate fields gives the album a timeless quality, through which an omnipresent dark streak flows, resulting in the albums solemn coherence.
A Monument begins with the distorted marching rhythm of ‘Anchor’, comparable to the theatricality of a late Tom Waits album. ‘Blood stains’ exhibits the group’s heavy rock influences, with fuzzy vocals, crunchy chromatic organ melodies and Dead Weather-esque guitar. ‘A Pose For No One’ presents touches of folk with grinding strings and electronic undercurrents, which wouldn’t sound out of place in Arcade Fire’s repertoire. The brass screeches, extended drones and anthemic choruses of ‘Build A Great Cliff’ marks it as one of the albums epic highlights.
‘Skin And Bone’ and ‘In The Center of Powder White’ encompass the most prominent use of sampling but to very different ends. As ‘Skin And Bone’ becomes busy with the clatter of drum fills and chanting vocals, the latter marks a major drop in the albums energy, as it floats down to a slow motion potency and bubbles with deep tremolos and dense drones.
The album ends on a high, concluding with the musical saga of ‘Bones’, an up-lifting track with a warped Friendly Fires twist – a rare glimpse of light in this minor key-heavy album.
A Monument does fall down, however, in its failure to push beyond its outer limits and present something genuinely new. When compared to its most easily comparable, albums of Portished and The Birthday Party etc., it is clear Tu Fawning could have tunnelled a little deeper, broke through in to new frontiers of dark atmospheric pop to have made this album an equal of its forebears.
Nonetheless, its dark beauty and strong identity make this an enjoyable and powerful record, one that has managed to combine ideas from a wide and colourful spectrum and unite it into a dark and mysterious whole.
Released on 7th May 2012 by City Slang Records