Perth experimental instrumental band Tangled Thoughts of Leaving’s latest foray into the heavy and dark, No Tether, is a complex beast. Conceived on the road, in the studio and in the bush with the addition of guitarist Paul Briggs, their newest release symbolises the culmination of jam-style compositions, playing and writing live and directing the band’s creative energy outwards. Where their last album (2015’s Yield to Despair) leaned inwards into depressive spirals, No Tether instead faces out – as the title suggests, cutting loose.
The result is a strange animal. An amalgamation of samples, shrieking synths, metal staples and even a jazz section, the album holds no pretenses of coming to listeners as anything but the whim of nature it is. It’s hard to create meaning without words – a dilemma faced by any instrumental ensemble – but Tangled Thoughts of Leaving here take an enviable position in their unfurling. Rather than require No Tether to take the form they impose, it has expanded into the shape that it is – perhaps awkward at times, perhaps incomprehensible, but undeniably powerful.
By now the preceding single The Alarmist has gotten plenty of air time since the album’s release in July, and rightfully so. Rolling in after the static soundscape of the opening track, The Alarmist is a triumphant, rollicking piece. Dark (Tangled Thoughts have not lost their darkness) yet gleeful, this track is the gem of the album; it’s well formed, warm and textured, like a storm darkening the plain, its energy in the crackling air, the winding guitar solos, the driving, battle-cry drums.
But from The Alarmist, expect a different direction to what the song titles suggest; that is, a rising thesis, from Signal Erosion to Inner Dissonance and Binary Collapse, to finally No Tether. It isn’t experimental in the sense of pushing the limits of sound or concept, but rather in pushing what Tangled Thoughts have – which is rock, which is metal, which is guitar and kit and keys – as far as they will go.
The real passage of the album is unpredictable but not nonsensical, moving first into the slow and meditative Cavern Ritual, then to the huge and bizarre Signal Erosion; contrasting war horns beaten ugly by the percussion with fine piano, a rubber-band snap between loud and quiet, and then machine gun static riffs intruding over the heavy drone of the band. At its apex, this track is brilliant – the effect of the drone and the static plays with the mind to generate the ghosts of vocals and melodies that simply aren’t there, but fill the spaces between the howling guitar and a pounding percussion rapidly transforming into smashing glass. That’s a rare and phenomenal gift, lampooned by the swaggering guitar of the close. This album does not take itself too seriously; it is a virtue in experimental work.
From that triumph, brace yourself for an improv-style jazzy number in Inner Dissonance. Yes, jazz. Night animal recordings and fluttering jazz. Binary Collapse swoops further down into mellow, sharp guitar and horns, and then to close, the title track No Tether instead opens to cicadas, creaking steel machinery, the blorp-blorp calls of night creatures, rising into chaotic, screaming noise, building and releasing, and an impressive wall of sound by its close.
Perhaps the beautiful thing about No Tether, then, is for all the strange and sometimes awkward selections – scatterings of jazz piano, the strange gulps of Australian wildlife, synth squeals and brass sections – nothing stands apart as jarring or ill-fitting in the entire creature. No Tether is a wonderful album which achieves impressive feats beside and within the experimental space it creates, and must be saluted for these victories beside its impulsiveness, its blatant, proud self-indulgence – but one is left to wonder if, without this, it never could have reached the joys it has in going just one step further and pushing harder against its form. This album is a fantastic little beastie.