By: Ziggy Merritt
Since her debut EP in 2014, Emily Underhill, otherwise known as TUSKS, has been creating a cavern of soundscapes, her own personal domain to explore and build upon. From a new artist, it’s ambitious and unexpected to hear tracks so magnanimous and epic where first-time efforts are typically lo-fi and full of unintentional hazy feedback. With her debut, Dissolve, TUSKS hits the ground running, following the same spectral and percussive impulse that has guided her career thus far.
The sonic inspiration for the album seems to fall somewhere between the line of Sigur Rós and M83. Like M83, Underhill’s production is cinematic in scope, diving into the deep end of dream pop and shoegaze to come up with an album that shares the vision of fellow film auteurs while also inlaying some hints of the minimal R&B acoustics that invite some comparison to James Blake.
Most tracks display her voice an enormous space for her vocals to echo endlessly whether they be a gentle whisper or a full belt. Though occasionally not featured with quite as much prominence as they should, “Toronto” and “For You” offer two sides of what promises to be a compelling career. “Toronto” by itself begins with a simple guitar hook that features throughout the track as heavy, percussive elements build and build to a quiet finish. “For You” is a carryover from her previous EP released earlier this year that wisely opens up the album. Invoking those hinted at James Blake and How to Dress Well vibes, it’s isolated from much of the more pure and ambient dark textures found throughout succeeding tracks. Here Underhill’s vocals are given a similar distortion to the electro-R&B stylings of Purity Ring, which settles nicely against her own noted brand of goth overtones.
As perhaps hinted, missteps on this debut are not entirely absent. The atmosphere Underhill has crafted around Dissolve swallows too much of the album for much of a genuine hook to have time to germinate. Though not approaching unpleasant, the downtempo density obscures the lyrics to the point of irrelevancy in some cases. They act more as decoration and not as something truly intrinsic to the fundamental nature of the tracks they accompany. “Last” and the title track itself are some of the worst offenders in this regard but both tracks are notably distinguished in their ability to cultivate an intensity in the atmosphere that Underhill is trying to establish. What’s here is enough to establish the emerging artist as someone worth much more than the easy comparisons thrown her way.