My favourite episode of In The Night Garden, the UK kids’ bedtime show that some posit tells the story of a lost and brine-crazed sailor’s dying hallucination, is the one in which the Tombliboos put on a free jazz gig for the garden residents with their drums and piano. No one likes it; it’s a fucking horrorshow and I think Mr Pontipine’s moustache falls off, but those Tombliboos are in the zone.
I can identify: I can’t play an instrument either but put me on the rug with my son’s interactive-farm-animal-book-and-keyboard-combo and suddenly I’m Ornette Coleman. Well, not really, but you know – I almost worked out “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” once using a cow, two ducks and the farmer’s wife. The point is, it’s a rare parent indeed that hasn’t taken a surreptitious skip along the Chad Valley Giant Floor Piano of an evening. Small kids’ toys are almost all intended to create sound in some way and very occasionally in their chaos and clatter the young ‘uns seem to hit on something that actually jams enough to trigger genuine interest in the items’ musical potential.
Simon Proffitt and Owen Martell of Welsh duo Taw have clearly experienced feeling this too, with the former – also known for his work with The Master Musicians of Dyffryn Moor – admitting to gathering up his young son’s toys one night with the precise aim of “improvis[ing] interesting and credible music.” With Martell and a portable recording device to hand, Truce Terms was born.
The first thing to note is that for all its childish trappings, Truce Terms is an incredibly serious-sounding record with genuine improvisational interests at heart. Aside from Proffitt having already amassed a fine body of recorded work under numerous aliases it is also worth considering Martell’s written work, in particular his 2013 novel Intermission which told the fictionalised story of legendary pianist Bill Evans’ withdrawal from public life following the death of his young bassist Scott LaFaro. “To the person who uses music as a medium for the expression of ideas, feelings, images or what have you;” quoth Evans, “anything which facilitates this expression is properly his instrument.”
To tap away at a kids’ xylophone and toot a swannee whistle is one thing, but Taw are in the business of the ambiguous. Truce Terms features nothing you might label “musical” – the album’s homespun immediacy gives it the air of a collection of field recordings on which a duo of men drop Lego, jiggle rain sticks and clank together tin tubes. In places it is remarkably reminiscent of something, say, Emmanuel Mieville might have picked up on his travels in Hong Kong and Malaysia. “Offground,” for example, with its air-kissed metals and reedy concertina, exudes a softly creaking mysticism like the dust from a temple floor being whisked in the wake of a hovering robe.
With the exception of some subtle squeaky animal use during “Dau,” Taw resist admirably the urge to get wacky and upturn the toy box. The centrepiece “Cymod,” which runs to nigh-on 25 minutes, is a prime example of the duo’s restraint, building ever-so-slowly to a cold, sleety spatter that isn’t so much climactic as it is a call to pick up the football and get inside before you catch your death. There’s a friability to Taw’s music, too, in the way the elements seem to grasp for one another like mismatched gears in search of a propulsive foothold – take “Heb ddim yn iawn,” for example, which sounds as though the artists were juggling building blocks, the clicking wooden parts a Mills’ Mess of percussive angst kept barely aloft.
Where it must’ve been so tempting to grab the lot and trounce all over it, Taw choose instead to space things out and pick wisely – this is soft, slow, closed-eyes music borne from a world of febrile noise and dyspraxic rowdiness.