After releasing two revered albums, 'Dissolve' in 2017 and 'Avalanche' in 2019, London-based electronic songwriter and producer Tusks, aka Emily Underhill, will soon release her third record, 'Gold'.Tusks has teased 'Gold' (which is slated for release 12 April) with 2023 single 'Artificial Flame', and followed up earler this week with the record's second highlight track 'Adore'.
'Gold' took form slowly over several months spent rewriting and reworking; half created at home in the middle of London and half during two solitary trips to Devon, where many of the songs found their inspiration.
In need of some space, away from a shared house that had just been through a pandemic together as well as from a relationship that was coming to an end, she travelled to the south-west.
It was here that she would get the bulk of her writing done, recognising there were some things she would have to work through alone, and in no small part it came to her in the form of a torrential storm.
Bringing the album back to London, Tusks partnered with producer Tom Andrews to bring the tracks to life from studios like Ten87 in Tottenham and SS2 Recording in Southend.
Synth-heavy and fuelled by emotionally charged layers of heavenly vocal harmonies, the album is densely constructed, meticulously produced and cathartic
Across ten tracks of deeply resonant electronic pop, the soundscapes crafted here sway from the blissful, ambient and thought-provoking, to slow-building ragers. Through pressure and release, 'Gold' explores dynamics, nuances and emotions using an array of atmospheric and kinetic textures as well as Tusks' singular, powerful voice.
Anyone familiar with her career to date will note that Tusks' relationship with music as a means to communicate vulnerability is well documented. There's a raw, exposed nature to her writing that feels authentic and intimate.
She often describes the complications and subtleties of relationships in a way that's reflective and relatable. 'Gold' maps various stages in the breakdown of a romance, but it also stops to consider the impact of isolation, individually and socially, as well as anxiety, mental health and the wider effects of austerity.
"A lot of this album was inspired by contrasting experiences," Underhill explains, "processing a break-up and then falling in love again. Being constantly surrounded by people in lockdown, then suddenly being completely alone and free. Being in the city vs. being in nature.
"We wanted to echo these contrasts in the production of the music so constantly moved between lo-fi and hi-fi production – sampling our own drum beats, recording them through compressed tin-can mics and processing through loads of analogue gear and a 404 then switching to cleaner, larger sounding kits achieved by recording with mics in back rooms and the ceiling to give the impression of space.
"There was a huge analogue influence on the production and mix too by using loads of analogue synths and modular, putting a lot of the stems through tape and getting to be really creative with using delay throws and feedback on the 501 Space Echo. It was such a fun process and allowed Tom and I to delve into doing exactly what we love."
In its production, 'Gold' is a musician's album. Tusks pushed herself further during the creative process, slaving over each snare sample and the tone of each synth note. She describes LP opener 'Wake' as "like the orchestra tuning up"; it invites the listener in and slowly spreads itself out curiously.
"The demo sounded like this folk song sung over a synth drone, which we then used as a skeleton for the track and built it up with so many layers of textures and synths. That's kinda what the song's about for me – the journey of the synths and playing with as much texture and sound as possible; we did stuff like include samples from the NASA website of audio recordings of the Mars Rover. It's very exploratory, I think it's about discovery, and about trying to figure out what's going on in your head."
The album continues its excursion further, with epic and dreamlike musicality that soars upwards. On tracks like 'Adore' and 'Artificial Flame', it's used to examine two opposite ends of the partnership spectrum.
"'Adore' is about falling in love with someone at the start of a relationship when you're asking yourself if it's a good idea, if you should fall for that person or whether you should keep yourself guarded.
"'Artificial Flame' is about the point I'd also realised I was no longer in love with my partner at the time. It's about coming to that realisation and processing it."
It was while thunder rolled and rain poured outside that Underhill was able to deal with some of these things. "I didn't really speak to anyone for days, and the storm came over.
"Weirdly, that ended up inspiring the chorus hook because I couldn't light a fire without using a load of firelighters, which then made this massive green flame. I was kinda staring at it, then the phrase artificial flame popped into my head and seemed to sum up everything I was feeling."
By delving into the technicals of the record, it allowed for further experimentation across the board; for example, they were able to lift parts out of songs and into others where they saw fit, adding thematic continuity and patch-working ideas they felt had value.
A discarded brass recording from 'Read The Room' was sampled and added to 'Tainted Plates'. They also played with processing through tape and 404 to retain the lo-fi quality Tusks was adamant in keeping throughout.
Album highlight 'The Way' was written about finding the calm past the turmoil. "I'd been out in the storm for a couple of hours, in these mental 45 mile an hour winds listening to Porridge Radio. I came home and instantly sketched out this whole song on bass guitar.
"It was another one where it just kinda came out in one go from somewhere within me, like it had been building up over time. It's addressed to anxiety. It's about realising that whatever is going to happen, is going to happen anyway – that's just the way it is. I find that very calming."
'Read The Room' is a one-take piano and vocal recording, stripped back to a melancholy mood-piece to convey reminiscing on a failed relationship. Follow-up 'Strangers' paints a vivid picture of "how you feel when you decide to end a relationship and realise what you're about to lose – that person who you've shared so much with and been so close to for so long is just going to become a stranger. I found it so hard to come to terms with that fact."
On the title track, Underhill singles out the UK government's handling of the pandemic. "It was written in response to seeing how the Tories acted and realising that if you have a certain amount of money and status, nothing else seems to matter – you can get away with anything.
"I felt like we were watching in real time how they just didn't seem to care if people died or if any of this horrific stuff happened, so long as they weren't going to get in trouble for it or their friends got rich.
"Somehow, they just seem to be immune to any kind of punishment and let off the hook. It's more joyous at the end because that's supposed to be about their downfall. I feel like I was hoping that would come by the time this came out."
Joint closers 'Body Ache' and 'Cold Storm' perfectly encapsulate what 'Gold' is; a force of nature, as impactful in its quieter moments as it is when it strikes. Like the people and relationships it represents, it's complex, with a depth and richness that's observed within the smallest sonic eccentricity and decision.
Like anything, Tusks knows her artistic strength comes from a careful balance, a push and pull that can be felt tangibly across 'Gold' and its conception.
'Gold' will be released 12 April, 2024. Pre-order it.