San Francisco noir-rockers The Tunnel have released their new album Shudder today via Learning Curve Records.
With stabs of growling bass, a discordant peal of guitar, and the robotic thump of a floor tom, Shudder‘s title track launches into being, setting the stage for frontman Jeff Wagner’s unmistakable voice – a sinister croon, caked in distortion and sleaze. Bearing traces of such pompadoured antiheroes as Nick Cave, Wagner’s dark and theatrical twang is offset by the band’s mechanized throb. These two energies – the sultry noir and the cold machinery – grind against each other and create the sparks that are The Tunnel.
The glorious clash of styles can be depicted in many ways. A 2020 review from White Light/White Heat saw it as a mix of “seedy primeval swampy muddy groove” and “industrialized noise racket” and dropped a flurry of names, from The Birthday Party to Big Black.
A line might also be drawn to a certain circle of ’90s indie rockers – Girls Against Boys, Six Finger Satellite, and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion among them – whose noise rock assaults were laced to varying degrees with young-Elvis swagger, representing a similar marriage of heat and cool.
Jeff Wagner was kind enough to list three releases that have influenced him and The Tunnel a lot…
Queenadreena – Drink Me
Katie Jane Garside’s voice is an inspiration as she slithers through each song and shakes it to life. Her tender and terrifying whispers and wails innervate the band’s assault, and it is bracing. For me that kind of overwhelming, vivid presence is almost too intimate (see also Prince, Siouxsie, Jim Thirlwell), and I love it.
The Birthday Party – Mutiny EP
All of The Birthday Party EPs are pure standalone atmospheres of stark, hellish beauty, but perhaps this one is the most perfect. It’s strange using the words “pure” and “perfect” to describe this mess of barbed wire, but the space inside it seems non-negotiable, every shriek or moan necessary to define it, and everything else cut out. Mutiny is a long-time inspiration for dark, stripped-down moods, along with a few others like Tones on Tail’s Night Music or Boss Hog’s Cold Hands. I’ve escaped into the alternate universe of Mutiny more times than I can count.
The Jesus Lizard – Goat
This one is so ingrained in my psyche that I am probably incapable of separating its rhythms and instincts from any part I might write in any type of rock or noise music. I am guessing it shares a subliminal sonic core in my brain with RevCo’s Big Sexy Land, Girls Against Boys’ Venus Luxure No.1 Baby, and Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet. Goat‘s seedy violence, humor, and eeriness still intoxicates.