[SULTRY POST-POP] Tu Fawning doesn't really work on paper. The band is fronted by a guy best known for his work with the carnivalesque, heavy Portland rock act 31Knots (Joe Haege) and a singer-songwriter known for molasses-slow singer-songwriter fare delivered in a near whisper (Corrina Repp). It would seem Tu Fawning's co-leads couldn't be further apart in their aesthetics, but the band's 2010 debut, Hearts on Hold, found some appealing middle ground: darkly sexy jazz vibes, a seasick sort of swing, some Tom Waits swagger and a common love of Great Depression-era fashion.
Still, those familiar with the members' past projects could hear some stylistic tug-of-war happening on Hearts on Hold. Tu Fawning was a band trying to do a little of everything—from gyspy jazz to synthy jams—and what worked individually as moody, unconventional tracks often felt like strange bedfellows when listened to as a collection.
A Monument, though, is an album lover's album. The fittingly titled opener, "Anchor," sets a tone—overcast, sentimental, damaged but hopeful—and the quartet builds on it for 45 minutes. It's not that Tu Fawning has scaled back its ambition on Monument: One still finds horns, distortion, vocal filters and all forms of percussion on the nine-track collection. But there's no experimentation for experimentation's sake—it's a weightier collection than its predecessor, and one less concerned with combining instruments hitherto unpaired than with letting avant-garde flourishes detail artisan-crafted songs.
The other big change here is a power shift. Repp takes nearly all of the primary vocal duties on Monument, with Haege providing shadow harmonies. It's a smart move, both because Repp is a masterful singer and because the band is still stylistically diverse enough that it needs a grounding, familiar force to connect the spaghetti-western explosiveness of "Build a Great Cliff" to hard-funk closer "Bones." When Repp's forlorn vocals start to weigh too heavy, as on the trance-inducing, semi-industrial "Skin and Bone," the band swoops in to steer the enterprise out of wrist-slitting territory.
Maybe Tu Fawning shouldn't work, but five years after Haege and Repp began the project—four since Liza Reitz and Toussaint Perrault made it a real band—they have learned to speak the same musical language. I can honestly say it's a language I've never heard before.
SEE IT: Tu Fawning plays Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., on Friday, June 8, with Regular Music. 8:30 pm. $10. 21+.