Things Can Only Get Better

Tussle raises the creativity quotient

"Howard Jones — you know any of his tunes?" Three-fourths of Tussle, the San Francisco dub-funk phenoms, are being randomly interrogated by a pair of neighboring diners at Chai Yo, a cramped Thai noodle house in the TL. Chopsticks are lowered, tofu momentarily goes on hold. Dude and Duder at the other table most likely don't realize that these are musicians here and so expect nothing but blank stares.

"'Ship of Fools,'" Tussle's electronics maestro, Nathan Burazer, replies. "He sang 'Ship of Fools.'"

"Doesn't he have spiky blond hair?" wonders percussionist Jonathan Holland.

Bassist Tomo Yasuda's silence implies approval, though it's possible he thinks his bandmates are full of shit.

"Wait, you know him?" the other table asks, incredulous.

"Not personally," Burazer says. "But he sang ÔShip of Fools.'"

"All right. We bet that you wouldn't know who he was, but ... " Apparently, the band stumped the stumpers, who shrug into their pad thai. But Tussle is still riffing.

"I just know that from VH1," Burazer says from behind his clipped Wooderson mustache.

"You watch VH1 a lot?" Holland smirks.

"Back in the day, fuck yeah!" Burazer says. "'Ship of Fools,' everybody knows that, right? But we're getting sidetracked."

He's right — we were discussing the San Francisco art community and its incestuous crossover with the city's music scene. Burazer and Holland, both school-trained painters and graphic designers, have long straddled the fence.

"This always happens," Holland says.

"Howard Jones always sneaks into our interviews," Burazer says. "Fuck that guy." He leans close to the tape recorder nestled mid-table between jars of red pepper flakes and pickled jalapenos and declares: "We have no relationship to Howard Jones."

This is good stuff, ostensibly off-topic, but perhaps illustrative of what goes on in the new Tussle. These two, Burazer and Holland, are the core, the founding members who've known each other since they were bused together to arts high school in North Carolina. Whether or not the Japanese-born Yasuda, part of Hey Willpower brought in this May to replace departed multi-instrumentalist Andy Cabic, knew all along that Howard Jones did not sing "Ship of Fools" is a mystery. (That was Erasure. Howard Jones, the '80s radio popster, did in fact have blond spiky hair, but his hit was "Things Can Only Get Better.") Tussle's other new guy, drummer Warren Huguel, isn't cashing in his .02 because he's down the block sound-checking with his other band, Citay, for a gig at the Hemlock.

From this scattershot scenario you might guess that Tussle makes a hot-n-heavy racket. You'd be right. Since its inception in 2001, the band has been embraced for its spacious, polyrhythmic recordings and sweatfest performances that metronome between '70s krautrock robotics, ganja-fried echo chamber dub, and full-on Blue Man bang-a-can hysterics. A few sought-after vinyl 12-inches boosted Tussle to hipster icon status early on, and its alignment with visual artist Chris Johanson and the warehouse/gallery scenes of New York and San Francisco only added to the cachet. The group has soundtracked an indie documentary about bicycle gangs, toured Europe with Erase Errata, played a dance party under the Brooklyn el, been remixed by Hot Chip, and designed CD art for Trans Am. And Tussle is about to celebrate the release of its second LP at Cafe du Nord with noisnik colleagues named — say it with us — T.I.T.S. and Fuckwolf.

That album, Telescope Mind, out on Norwegian it-label Smalltown Supersound, sharpens the band's initially fuzzy resolution into a well-polished conniption-disco-beam, albeit one occasionally refracted to bits by digital deconstruction or glazed over by ambient effects. Produced by former Bay Arean Quinn Luke, aka Bing Ji Ling, it plays like acupuncture by cattle prods, driven by a workaholic, kitchen-sink rhythm section almost subliminal in its groove. This music is unafraid to look you in the eye, clap its hands, and rock the funk out. (Luke believes bassist Alexis Georgopoulos, who left the group after the recording of Telescope Mind, was a critical influence on the record.)

So from all Tussle's dalliances and allegiances, we gather that these guys dwell in a creative world so terrifically dense and off-kilter that it's sliding heavily toward something rather unique.

"Our fifth member is Patrick Hoffman, who's from Brazil," Burazer says.

"Brazil via Colorado," Holland adds.

"He lived in Brazil for a while and came back and had all these dance moves. He brought 'em to our show and we nicknamed him Brazilian Hips, because he has these fucking hips, man. He plays the cowbell."

It's another weapon in Tussle's quiver, one that's already overstuffed with painters, projectionists, filmmakers, party promoters, art fags, and now embedded dance-floor wigouts — someone there just to make an ass of himself on stage.

"That would be him," says Holland.

"We gotta set some time bombs at du Nord," Burazer continues. "Like Patrick, because people don't dance at Cafe du Nord. They just fold their arms. I don't know if they're into it or not. Maybe they're sleeping."

And making them dance must be the MO for Tussle, this collection of career artist types who can't seem to staunch the flow of their imagination.

"Well, ideally," Burazer says. "For me personally, [movement] is not super important, but you'd think that's what would happen."

Yeah, you definitely would.

 
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