Operating just below the visible surface of the Portland music scene, something dark is happening. Happy to let others take the limelight, Tu Fawning are constantly brooding, emotionally dissecting themselves and their relationships, and turning their findings into songs that heave with life and melody.
The latter aspect was not as prominent on their debut album Hearts on Hold, which had a looser, more psychedelic feel to it than A Monument does. This time around, the music is just as sombre and atmospheric, but among the echoing guitar notes and the ponderous drum rolls, there are now fully-fleshed out choruses where there used to be meandering, slightly aimless mantras.
Opener ‘Anchors’ sets the tone, with a hypnotic, reverb-heavy guitar line and a simple yet catchy hook. The drumming is incredibly restrained but leads the songs in a way that almost makes it the lead instrument: the ambient mini-opera of ‘Wager’ contains post-punk guitar noise, sound effects and a chanted chorus, but it is the drums, moving from ominous tom-tom rumbling to gunshot snare beats and into a kickdrum interlude, that bookend the separate sections of the song. In ‘Build a Great Cliff’, the drums are more urgent, perfectly supporting Corrina Repp’s desperate pleas for a lover to finally prove their love for her by doing something, anything, even if it is just to build something up and then tear it apart without batting an eyelid.
Tu Fawning’s musical reference points have always been difficult to pin down, but there is a definite Portishead (circa Third) vibe, and hints of the math-y leanings of 31knots (guitarist Joe Kelly’s other band) as well as late ’60s jam rock. For evidence of the latter, check out the deliciously drawn-out prog-riff fest that is the closer ‘Bones’.
Lyrically, A Monument revolves mainly around themes of abandonment, emotional and physical trauma (“It’s the pieces left in the street/It’s the wreck I can’t leave” – ‘Bones’) and alienation. But this time around, Tu Fawning have channelled those themes into much more accessible and stringent songs than the ones that found their way onto the debut album.
The result is a collection of slow, rich and dark stories from the Portland underground that draw you in, only to hold you firmly in their grasp for 45 very entertaining minutes.