Shoegaze rock from bands like Hum, Catherine Wheel, and Sponge in the 90s and the more modern, electronically-styled version of dream pop from the likes of M83, Washed Out and Mura Masa have always been pretty good bedfellows. Artists like Tame Impala, Ratatat and Mogwai have sought to marry the two sister genres, with varying levels of success, but the cross section of shoegaze and dream pop always seems to be a great jumping off point for creativity and innovation in music. Add some EDM-inspired trap beats into that mix, and that’s where we find Australian producer, Tenuous Threads.
Inspired by the afore-mentioned Tame Impala, Mogwai and the great Miles Davis, Tenuous Threads has said outright that he finds sticking to one genre or subgenre quite boring, and it’s evident in the diverse sound and style that peppers his second EP, Mettle.
I draw from a wide range of influences and I get bored with a specific genre very quickly. That is why I make music that is stylistically disparate. For my latest EP, I wanted to be able to tie the tunes together in some way so I came up with the idea of using the lyrics to unify the songs. I was inspired by Nordic Noir to develop a narrative that explored the emotional roller coaster of a girl who has been abducted and held prisoner. Each track on Mettle explores a different phase of her psychological journey, from her abduction to her eventual escape…”
That certainly explains the title of the EP as well, the term “mettle” being a somewhat sharper synonym for resilience or mental fortitude. It’s an interesting reason to pick a unifying storyline for an EP, the desire not to be limited by style of genre, but it certainly works here. Compared with his first EP, 2020’s Crypsis, however, Mettle does indeed seem a bit more cohesive theme-wise. Crypsis also has vocals throughout but they’re not composed as a typical pop song’s could be and are in fact quite disjointed in the way they interact with the music, giving that EP more of a dadaist, Miles Davis-meets-electro-trap vibe.
That’s not to say that Mettle adheres to any one style; far from it, in fact, so it’s clear Tenuous Threads was able to achieve his dual goals of telling an abduction story and staying genre-neutral the emotion of the music and story, however, are anything but neutral. From the lead track “Abduction,” the listener is launched into the world of the kidnapped girl via both music and lyrics. It’s visceral to say the least; the lyrics filled with the graphic scene of the abduction and the music filled with despair, hurt and terror. And that’s just track one.
Because of the emotive nature of Mettle, it’s hard at first to extract all the styles and techniques contained therein. “Abduction” achieves its emotional feel with soaring guitars and classical strings grounded by a heavy trap beat. “Hope Springs” is more steeped in vintage synth pop with more of a disco house beat, though that does nothing to dull its emotional impact.
The turning point/middle track of this musical saga, third track “Is It Any Wonder” brings the metal to Mettle as the most analog rock-inspired track on the EP. With lashings of prog rock, if the listener was heretofore unaware of Mettle being a sort of rock opera, it would be pretty clear with this track. It really defines “mettle,” as the captor struggles with her own mind and will to fight more even than her captors, the nearly nine-minute long, emotionally fraught track crashes to an almost desperate end, giving way to the much looser, blues-inspired psychedelic rock of “Lucid Delusion.” A bit of a surprise after such a charged first half, this track seems to indicate the captor escaping into her mind rather than fighting.
The EP’s clear climax is contained in “Now or Never,” where the prisoner finally breaks out of both her physical and mental prisons. Another psychological examination of such situations, “Now or Never” really outlines, both in music and lyrics, the mental fortitude that’s required to break away from abuse, loneliness, codependence, et al. Mostly 90s-inspired alt rock in terms of style, “Now or Never” unwinds into jazzy, trip hop-style peace after a news bullet announces she girl has been found.
When artists who are generally experimental and free-flowing with their ideas of genre and style do actually set their minds to putting together a cohesive work, the results are often extraordinary. In the case of Tenuous Threads and Mettle, an already more than proficient artist has managed to create a work that’s visceral, emotional and relatable that, in the meantime, sideswipes the notion of genre. Swept up in the story and feelings of this extraordinary journey, most fans won’t even notice or care that so many lines are blurred.