Emily Underhill makes her full-length debut under her minimalist moniker TUSKS, but might it be too late for so little?

Remember when pulled pork was first introduced to the UK and everyone went mad for it? Then every restaurant in town started slathering pulled pork over all their menu items and trying to make pulled ham, pulled chicken and pulled beef happen until we reached the pulled meat event horizon and it just became another generic dish?

This is what I worry will shortly start happening, or may already be happening, to the sort of minimalist music that TUSKS makes. That breathy, feverish, achingly self-conscious electro-pop that James Blake and The xx brought into vogue at the beginning of the decade might look, at first glance, like it’s still going strong. Every week there's a great new release from IDER or SOULS or ANIMA! or any other up and coming act with a capitalised name and a passion for echoing reverb, intent on blurring the few remaining lines between indie and pop.

Just as emo once dominated the web in the Myspace era, so these very immediate, heart on sleeve alt-pop acts have prospered online in the age of Soundcloud and Spotify playlists. Yet, despite the popular interest that TUSKS and her ilk can still command, you can almost sense the crash coming over the horizon as the decade moves inexorably towards its close. Once the twenties and thirties roll around, this is the music that will be labelled as 'quintessentially tenties' almost immediately (yes, I’m trying to make ‘tenties’ happen. What of it?)

All of which is very unfair to bring up specifically when discussing TUSKS, who has created an objectively solid debut that showcases both her delicate voice and skill at ladling scoops of atmosphere into a song. She has a talent for making quietness sound loud and loudness sound quiet, knitting miserablism to triumph in such a way that it makes you feel both like staying in bed and punching the air at the same time.

There are a few dud tracks that never seem to find a foothold from which to ascend: the fleeting '1807', the Coldplay circa 'Ghost Stories'-aping 'False', the hollow 'Ivy'. But there are also moments of legitimate brilliance. 'Toronto' remains one of the best songs of the year, the kind of atmospheric tearjerker that Daughter would trade their drummer for given half a chance. The way 'My Love' floats in after it like an extended coda is subtly brilliant, its soup of cello strings and bass throbs providing the perfect platform for TUSKS’ soaring vocal.

However, you can only eat salads for so long before you start to crave carbohydrates and, through no fault of TUSKS herself; the law of diminishing returns is beginning to catch up with the incredible success of the 2010s minimalist movement. 'Dissolve's sparseness and space would absolutely have worked in its favour any other time in the last eight years or so. Now it's starting to sound thin.

I could be completely wrong. Atmospheric London alt-pop might reign supreme for decades to come and TUSKS' music might be chosen to soundtrack emotional sports montages at the LA 2028 Olympics. But if the UK's musical equilibrium does alter as we approach the decade (which has happened more often than not over the past 50 years) then it will be newcomers like her, those yet to learn adaptability, that get left behind. 'Dissolve' is a fine album for the time being, but it has a built-in sell by date and TUSKS may well want to diversify before the tide changes and she's left gasping on the shore.


Words: Josh Gray

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