Written by: Dave Cantrell
Opting this time ’round for a somewhat more consistent pop swim through the collective cerebral swamp of current-day ‘rock music,’ Athens, GA-based Tunabunny, on their latest opus released last June (yeah yeah, I know and shut up; such is my life now), entitled with a fever dreamed irreverence PCP Presents Alice in Wonderland Jr, haven’t ceded an inch of their experimentalist bona fides but rather have simply become more intrinsically adept at luring melody into the arms of perversion.
Makes sense of course for a band that have been, for the better part of a decade now, Frankensteining together seemingly anomalous constituent parts of Beefheart, This Heat, the Residents and the Cocteau Twins (or whatever marvelous infallible crackpot amalgam applies; you can make up your own and likely will) and, of many overall impressions gleaned from listening to this record, among the most prominent is the confidence the band now have in their own process. None of which makes for an easy listen, per se – though less an aggressively kaleidoscopic challenge than predecessor Kingdom Technology, there’s nothing exactly breezy about this latest one – it’s just the band sound more comfortable in their own discomfiting skin. Or, put more precisely, perhaps, Tunabunny has, by this point, fully learned the value of subverting their own sense of subversion.
A sprawling double album that never blurs out of focus no matter how far individual tracks may stray toward the margins, PCP Presents is about as enjoyably maddening with its madcap variety as it’s safe to go before their intended audience – the intrepid, audacious listener not easily pleased by the norms of the day – begin jumping ship, fears of earwigs hounding their thoughts. One suspects Tunabunny – still the foursome of Scott Creney, Mary Jane Hassell, Brigette Adair Herron and Jesse Stinnard – is acutely aware of where that line is and how it shifts itself around depending on the needs of the song. Because the thing is, you can’t be a a band taking chances like this without a well-calibrated measure of discreet politesse. This is, after all, still entertainment, just the type that rather asks of its listener an occasional exertion of effort to get from the point A of curiosity to the point B of grinning sound-inebriated satisfaction, which, if you ask many of us, is the finest kind. A bill of passage of sorts, this record allows for a multitude of oddly- (often greatly-), splendored experiences as we travel from the toy piano noisenik intro “Cartesian Theater” to the epic, eight-and-a-half minute shoegaze-in-a-shoebox dream pop closer “I Thought I Caught It (With You),” some of those experiences sidelong-glanced, others bearing down full-frontal, many dark and just as many sweet as sunshine. It is, truly, a trip.
In the twitch of an eye muscle we shift from the huffing DIY pop of “Incinerate” to “Noise Problems” that posits early L7 covering pre-dance Soup Dragons (I swear this is true) to the throbby hauntological stroll of “It Could Be Something” with its sludgy electronic pulse and dimestore horror synth arpeggios none of which detracts from it being a kind of happy nightmare take on an obscure Brill Building B-side. And of course this sort of dizzying segue mischief goes on all over the place – the two tracks past the above-described are the gently complex “Seek Consequence” that has an acid-etched ruined tango feel to it and reminds of a Jill Kroesen single from 1980 dragged through a Suicide processor, followed by the relatively frisky skirl of “Blackwater Homes” that’s dreamily pop-romantic in its way, what with that mandolin and the simple title-repeated chorus that will live forever inside your lizard brain – and yet not a bit of it feels forced or jarring. This isn’t wink-wink hijinks for the sake of it but rather a carefully assembled document detailing the impetus and cravings and attempts of a singularly devoted quartet, pursuing a fearless creativity at a level seldom encouraged anymore in the sound landscapes as drawn in this often timorous post-indie world. And in that sense PCP Presents limns exactly that sweet spot in the artistic process that this writer tends to call ‘the gaining control of the letting go,’ where the tamed untame themselves and the vice is versa.
That’s a strong pronouncement no matter how idiosyncratically prosaic – just be glad I didn’t really get to the record’s second half – but the band, one suspects, would not hesitate to embrace the spirit of its sentiment. The Tunabunny trajectory has been one of constantly and unflinchingly staring down the devil as they present themselves with one tightrope-walking song-making challenge after another. Cagey and sure, this is breathtaking avant-pop given a free rein so long as that rein is stripped of indulgence.
Because, y’see, the trick, the absolute vital key, is to find a way to make a music that finds the run-amok visceral dancing a cool mambo with the button-down cerebral (and is, of course, deeply listenable besides). Only then are you guaranteed a possible shot at the immortal. Deerhoof know this and they will never die. Bastards of Fate are their own pantheon by now, and these four striving souls that go by the fetching, curious, but somehow just right name ‘Tunabunny’ know it in their bones.