7th June | Rough Trade
Photos: Lee Ramsey
As far as venues are concerned in this city, Rough Trade always carries a certain triumphant air within its walls. It’s partially due to the label’s rich and influential history within the independent music scene and partially due to its consistently impressive listings. This humble stage has become somewhat of a holy grail for acts across the country to conquer. With this in mind, where better could a homegrown artist choose to birth his latest creation? This is Tamu Massif’s latest chapter.
As the rain falls hard on a humdrum town, I make my way into Rough Trade’s pleasantly arty foyer. Early as always, I grab a drink and can’t help but overhear the wholesome pre-gig chatter of openers, Herbal Tea. I mention this as it, alongside the act’s moniker, contributes to the homely and organic aesthetic that the band encompasses. An overpacked suitcase housing the guitarist’s extensive pedal collection acts as a visual metaphor for a nostalgic trip, taken long ago, though ever-present in a nostalgic haze.
This effect-laden canvas swells and twirls in dulcet and delicate patterns beneath an alluringly emotive vocal performance. There is a gentle and warming quality to the melodies here, balanced with a creeping sense of introspection, hiding just beneath the horizon. Influences taken from the early work of both Alt-J and The XX are fantastically presented in the liquid droplets of atmospheric guitar. The gentle major cadences of vocalist Helena’s performance remind me greatly of some of Marika Hackman’s more haunting, folk-inspired early EPs.
Though born of a similar sound, Tamu Massif opens his set with a more clinical musicality thanks, in part, to the decidedly more electronic materials in its composition. Cold, glacial tine bells dance and fall around skeletal and at times jittery percussive elements, acting as a fitting counter-balance to the impressively organic and buttery vocal tones of Dave Dixon. His voice lands as croaking and emotionally loaded when necessary, often reminiscent of a less angry Jamie T. These moments are often punctuated with soft crooning passages that could easily sit atop a chart-worthy pop track.
An integral ingredient in Dixon’s idiosyncratic sound becomes brilliantly apparent in the twinkling and manic use of childlike arpeggiations present beneath his voice. Highly reminiscent of The Postal Service’s fantastic 2003 record, Give Up, these choices of instrumentation and composition elevate some more simply structured cuts to new territories. Left-field production beneath anthemic soundscapes appear deliberately alienating, with a looming sense of unease that heightens the poetic diction of Dixon’s vocal.
This is a vein that holds the key to Tamu Massif’s appeal. The bare bones of most of these tracks could be produced as bland and obvious pop tunes. That’s not to say they don’t show great songwriting chops – they do. It’s more to say that the modern pop song has a well understood formula. Dixon’s ability to merge this with cold, challenging and surprising audio motifs helps to create a sonic pallet that is truly unique and incredibly interesting to experience.
The ghostly notes of vapourwave and cinematic pulses that crest amongst a child’s music box form a world that is both alien and familiar. It’s almost like revisiting your parental home and snooping around the attic, surrounded by old toys – mostly wholesome, but for the figure you’re sure is watching you from afar.
See the video for ‘Senses’ here: