TZU – Balancing act

June 29, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Age, EG, June 27, 2008.

TZU’s third album negotiates many impulses, writes Dan Rule.

PIP NORMAN is the first to admit that Computer Love is something of a misleading title for TZU’s third and latest record. Sure, its intimation of electro-attuned hooks and nerdy hard-drive exoticism rings true in part, but the Melbourne quartet have never filled such a singular mould.

“It was just named after the song Computer Love, and the song came from just f—ing around on synthesisers and wanting to give a bit of a nod to 808 kicks and old synthesisers, you know, ye olde hip-hop,” laughs Norman, better known as MC and producer Count Bounce. “But in actual fact, the record isn’t really all that electronic. It kind of took a really warm, soulful twist. The whole Computer Love thing doesn’t really describe the breadth of what we’re doing.”

It’s little surprise. Since emerging from Melbourne’s left-of-centre hip-hop clique at the close of the ’90s, the Taoist-titled crew have flipped modes between politically aware, golden-era-styled hip-hop, hook-laced pop, frivolous retro-rock and most things between. Their shape shifting � witnessed most pointedly between the boom-bap of 2003 debut Position Correction and the Magoo-produced funk-rock of 2005’s Smiling at Strangers � saw them as one of the earliest domestic hip-hop acts to tour heavily on mixed bills and crossover into wider circulation.

According to Norman, the key to the four-piece’s lithe sound has been a band-like dynamic. Whereas hip-hop has long functioned under the modus operandi of producers and rappers working in virtual isolation from one another (producer makes beat, hands it to rapper, rapper lays down a verse, hands it back), TZU have thrived on collaboration.

“Everyone jumps on the beats, you know,” Bounce says of band mates Joel Ma (MC/producer Joelistics), Corey McGregor (aka producer Yeroc) and Shehab Tariq (DJ/producer Paso Bionic). “With Computer Love, Corey just started playing me some samples and I picked up a couple I liked. Then he made this amazing beat and we started to shuffle samples around and it just started to grow and grow and grow. So Joel turned up and all these synths started appearing, then I wrote the bass line and then suddenly we had this killer, killer track. It had that whole electro, kind of Daft Punk vibe, but it was also just a big, slamming hip-hop beat too.

“It was one of those moments where we wanted something, and we didn’t know what it would be, but we got it. And that was really rewarding, you know, to go through that collective creative process and come out triumphant.”

It says a lot about the record’s qualities. While Computer Love swerves off into playful moments of pop and experimentation, and the soul-flecked Get Up and Crazy Thinker add another flavour, the rugged, bass-heavy beats of cuts including Number One and the manic Axis Tilt ground TZU in a distinctly hip-hop base.

“We wanted it to be back in the club, you know,” says Norman. “Whether that was going to be in a hip-hop way or an electronic way, we weren’t sure. The boom-bap came back.”

Perhaps the record’s most striking track, however, comes via some rather impressive hired help. The searing, smoke-hued vocal on the bounce-heavy soul of Take it Easy belongs to Australia’s queen of soul, Renee Geyer. Suffice to say, it represents something of landmark for local hip-hop collaborations.

But as Norman recounts, the alliance was anything but unnatural. “We’d actually kind of been courting each other for a while,” he says. “Joel and Renee became buddies from judging the Australian Music Prize together and she just said to us, ‘Anytime you want some vocals, just let me know’. Oh man, the recording session was great. She’s just nutty and awesome and weird and cool. She’s such an impassioned singer.”

TZU play tonight at the HiFi Bar. Computer Love is out through Liberation/Warner

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