As escape strategies go, few would have picked Tennyson as a vehicle to take siblings Luke and Tess Pretty out of Edmonton and around the world.
The duo’s most recent six-track outing, Like What, is the kind of record best filed under “screamingly unique”. Consider “7:00 AM”, which starts with the sound of an alarm going off and then mixes easy-jazz synths and drunk-trumpet horns with what may or may not be toast being crunched, coffee running through a percolator, and orange juice being slurped. (If such a reading is entirely off base, don’t blame Tennyson for the movies they get you creating in your mind.)
Elsewhere, “Like What?” starts with waves lapping a shoreline and postclassical string swells, and then veers off into electro-glitch territory, marked by screeching monkeys and panic-attack breathing.
Some have written Tennyson off as a too-clever-by-half gimmick, the Guardian noting “You’ll either find it infuriating or intoxicating.” Others have deservedly praised Like What for stitching all manner of found sound into something that’s as mesmerizing as it is out-there.
What everyone can agree on is that the Pretty siblings have become a thing. When the Georgia Straight reaches them via conference call, they’re hunkered down in a Los Angeles B&B, getting set for a swing up the West Coast. Last fall found them crisscrossing North America as the opening act for French electro-gaze giants M83. And in a couple of weeks Tennyson will head overseas to Asia for the first time, to tour the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia.
Right at the top of the list of people who’ve been surprised by all this are the Prettys themselves.
“I was uploading music online for nobody pretty much for three years,” Luke says. “It took a long time to realize that I could make music with the goal of getting people’s attention. And after people started paying attention, I realized that I could kind of do my own thing. But even today, all this has been strange—it’s hard to look at our music from the outside.”
Tennyson began as a bedroom project, with Luke meticulously cutting and pasting everything from car alarms to video-game beeps and boops and then weaving in jazz-king percussion and swooping synths. That he ended up reshaping the songs with Tess for live performances was perhaps inevitable, seeing as how the two were playing around Edmonton as a two-piece jazz unit back when most kids their age were glued to the Cartoon Network.
Still, when Tennyson began to take off, it took the siblings a while to realize that people were taking notice.
“It was weird, because growing up I always expected that I would go to college,” says Tess. “It was only in my last two years of high school that I realized, ‘Oh, that probably isn’t going to happen.’ It was all really strange. I know a lot of kids in my school listened to Tennyson. We went to art school, so there were people in the dance program choreographing stuff to our songs. But it wasn’t like I got a lot of attention—it was more that people stopped knowing who I was, because eventually I wasn’t going to school anymore.”
These days, Tennyson finds itself championed by the likes of Ryan Hemsworth and collaborating with Skrillex and White Sea. Edmonton may still be home, but the duo clearly has its sights set high even after escaping.
“I’m working on six songs for release really soon,” Luke offers. “And I’m pretty stoked on them.”
Tennyson plays Fortune Sound Club on Saturday (February 18).