The Tunnel are a three-piece band based in San Francisco, who revel in the darkness. Jeff Wagner’s vocals ooze the type of venom Nick Cave once did with The Birthday Party. Alongside him bassist Sam Black and drummer Patrick Crawford set up the deep, ugly and unrelenting rhythmic wall of sludge we used to associate with Swans. Their new album, Fathoms Deep is fun like waking up in a nest of snakes.
The opening instrumental “Wraithers” sets the tone. The guitar and keyboards set up a spooky ambience that draws you in. It even feels good in its own way. Then the malevolent voice of Wagner comes in to open track two, “Strange Haven,“ with the line “You hear your footsteps walk down the middle of the street,” behind the blues walk of his guitar. Things are no longer looking quite as bright as they were before.
By the time “King Of The Impossible” rolls up, we are in good-time rock and roll territory – for desiccated former Batcave dwellers. Crawford gets in some serious drum action towards the end of this one. On the last song of side one – (on vinyl), they launch “Fathomless Deep.” This mostly instrumental bit serves notice that you have indeed arrived right where The Tunnel have wanted you all along. There is nothing left to do but turn the album over and see if there is a way out.
Despite the title, “The Beast-Catcher” (musically at least) offers a ray of hope. The Birthday Party used to trick us that way too though. A cursory listen to the lyrics (thoughtfully provided with the LP) reveals the truth: “The virgins are few and far between, he’s looking for you and he’s looking for me.”
“Scurvye Dreams” suggests our trio have been listening to some Leadbelly on their mission to freaky haunts in Northern CA. “The Bitter End” is a transitory piece. The surf qualities of “The Bitter End” show that The Tunnel have not only a sense of humor, but a great sense of timing. The best surf musicians – guys like Dick Dale, always made their guitars sound very dangerous. Their songs might be played on the radio, but those strings could slit your throat.
The record ends with “A Storm.” Has it all been a dream? Or are you sinking, fathoms deep? The Tunnel never spoil it by revealing their intentions, although my guess is the latter.
In any event, The Tunnel are one of the great bands in the SF area right now, and have put out an amazing second album. I must confess to not having heard the first, but if it is anything like Fathoms Deep, I would like to.
As mentioned previously, Fathoms Deep is available in all the formats, but my suggestion is to get it on vinyl. It is totally set up old-school, with a definite side one, and side two. They did a great job here, and are worth checking out. The Tunnel can be contacted at The Tunnel