Album Review: Tuff Love – ‘Resort’

ResortBeing in a band from Glasgow and appearing as devoutly “indie” as an outfit like Tuff Love has connotations, whether permanent members Julie Eisenstein and Suse Bear would have it or not.

There is for one an inevitable rush to benchmark them with scene mavens Belle & Sebastian, or proto-janglers The Pastels, whilst not forgetting alternatively grumpy post rockers Mogwai. This urge to compare is sometimes even more emphasised when considering that, beyond music, the city celebrates a rich cultural heritage derived from being a political and social intermezzo – one that frequently however punches beneath its weight in and amongst the songs and stories which emanate from within its imaginary walls.

It’s credit to the duo that these are millstones around another band’s neck. Whilst there are traces of both the alma mater’s universal dark and light in their music, the original idea was to form what they described as a “grunge band”. After they strapped on their instruments however, they ended up less Riot grrl than expected.  Developing this across three EPs released over the last 18 months, ‘Resort‘ is their début album, stabling their mostly brief, always simple template into a longer exposure, the kind which frequently fails to do the format justice.

They manage to make it swagger with more license than something so familiar should; ‘Slammer‘ ebbs and flows around a skeletal riff, Eisenstein dead panning lines like “I’ve got rage” with all the shoulder-shrugging diffidence of a car park attendant. ‘That’s Right‘ finds them in a more punk state of mind, but aside from anti-love-hate thing ‘Threads‘ it’s an act of defiant expression not often repeated here, the duo instead channelling both the shambolic punk of fellow Scots The Shop Assistants and the less imprecise sound of US college rock from the succeeding decade.

Recording largely at home, one of the other burdens of the scene might’ve been a temptation to blunt their craft by giving up on a fidelity which elevates them above the two minute buzzsaw crowd. Whilst the edges are rough enough, on both ‘Amphibian‘ and ‘Duke‘ the lush harmonies are for the road, the latter revealing little subtleties which the pair may want to experiment with if they ever feel the need to escape any scenes’ stringently pre-prescribed set of values.

There’s also something of a quiet thrill even now to hearing what they do so well; opener ‘Sweet Discontent‘ coaxes first then prickles with a rare energy, whilst the mid-tempo scuzz of ‘Poncho‘, and ‘Carbon‘s pastel wistfulness, give an eloquent lie to the bass/guitar/drums as a creative straitjacket. These in themselves are most of the story, but not all of it.

Eisenstein and Bear have clearly woven influences critics can hear, derived of their own less prosaic influences (The Beatles, REM) a sense of timelessness that a genre which is all about the thrill of sugar rushes rarely communicates. That ‘Resort’ appears so effortless is mightily impressive, that it has surfaces and guile which survive close examination even more so.

Tuff Love above all emotions will always belong to Glasgow. But for these two daughters of it, maybe that’s just for now.

(Andy Peterson)

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