Johan Berthling (of Tape) and Oren Ambarchi (of everything) have worked together before, with a duo album a decade ago and Ambarchi’s guest appearances with Berthling’s white-hot trio Fire! Tongue Tied sort of combines both approaches, with both minimal tone explorations and rhythmic propulsion coming through at various points. On Hapna.
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- Tongue Tied by Oren Ambarchi & Johan Berthling
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Here’s an album so good we all point blank refused to review it at the time of release, deigning instead to critically assess the latest Acid Person Solos Psychedelically For Two Hours record. Now, as the years turn over and January enters its meaningless middle phase, where people are just about done farting out their New Years’ Resolutions but not quite done dealing with the dreaded existential passing of another festive period, we feel like we can talk about it. Let’s flashback: in October, Oren Ambarchi and Johan Berthling made this record together; it was both a dream and blessing, a record that saw two businesslike improv collaborators come together and make something really actually beautiful.
You might know Ambarchi from his countless solo experiments, his drumming for various artists of note and avant-garde quartets, or even just by his kinda creepy album art of empty chairs or unworn shirts. Johan Berthling, meanwhile, runs Hapna and kills time with post-rock crew Tape. The two have met before amongst the throes of Berthling’s Fire! Orchestra, but considering how crowded it gets in there, I doubt they’ve spoken through anything but the discordance of their instruments. Here, the two take a core rhythm section of bass (Berthling) and drums (Ambarchi) and create gorgeous musical rubble, using blindingly bright synths and organs plus splintering guitar motifs to shift the record’s slithery tone. “Tongue” features all of that, rising out of the blare of synth, but eventually reigning it in with a bassline that slowly straightens out ‘til it can grow no more, plus Ambarchi’s cymbal-crashing drum droplets.
Stretching into twenty minutes, it sounds both gorgeous and sort of practical, like the duo have begun playing with the aim of reaching a certain tempo and sound, and are slowly tugging their way towards that end point. Despite the record’s flip-a-switch minimalism, each new motif and strain feels somehow vital to the process; “Tied” lies in wait for Berthling’s intermittent bass notes to reach a conclusion, and though the development might seem odd -- Ambarchi’s room-filling percussion meeting an almost crystalline synth drone that would usually be isolated and thrown onto someone’s Bandcamp tape, plus what sounds like painstaking feedback -- the duo make it feel like a normal journey through a rather beautiful landscape.
Trust me, this improv album is kinda like getting the bus from Leeds to York. This duo know how to drive.
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