On the autobahn. Gabriel Wheeler

Tussle are misfits. They're an instrumental band from San Francisco who issue stripped-down funk and Krautrock-inflected releases on a government-funded Norwegian label called Smalltown Supersound, which is largely renowned for cosmic-disco artists like Lindstrøm and Bjørn Torske. More anomalies: Tussle recorded their new album, Cream Cuts, with producer Thom Monahan, who's best known for his work with freak-folk illuminati Devendra Banhart and Vetiver. And Tussle don't use vocals (yet, anyway), which is a well-known deterrent to mass popularity, and though their music is eminently danceable, they don't get upset if you decide not to shake your moneymaker.

"Of course it's nice [if people dance], but it's like, do what you want," electronics savant Nathan Burazer reasons as he and fellow Tusslers Jonathan Holland, Tomo Yasuda, and Warren Huegel transport themselves from Baltimore to Chapel Hill in their van. "I've seen bands get upset that people weren't dancing, and it's really immature. Respond however you feel. If you need to go into your own brain and process what's going on, do that."

Such an open-minded attitude makes sense when you immerse yourself in Tussle's three albums and assorted EPs and 12-inches. Early works like the Don't Stop and Disco D'Oro EPs and the Kling Klang full-length clearly deserve quality time on more adventurous, dance-oriented DJs' decks (particularly Soft Pink Truth's awesome remix of "Windmill"), but Tussle's mesmerizing, minimalist funk (think A Certain Ratio, ESG, and Can, as nearly every critic in the world has noted) also provides especially savory brain food should you prefer to space out horizontally.

"We just do what's fun for us, the kind of music we want to hear in the world, to do the best that we can do as individual players," Burazer observes. "But our main objective isn't just to make dance music. It's to push the idea of music in general and see where it can go that it hasn't gone before."

Tussle progress ever closer to that goal with their new album, Cream Cuts. Fuller sounding than 2004's Kling Klang and 2006's Telescope Mind (their last recording with drummer/ melodica player Alexis Georgopoulos, aka Arp), Cream Cuts forgoes the previous discs' sparse linearity for a more dubbed-out, spacious sound and greater rhythmic variables. Tussle retain the funk for which they're celebrated (check out Tomo's wicked bass line and synth paraphrase of Roy Budd's Get Carter theme on "Third Party" and the sublime "Mother Sky" homage "Meh-Teh"), but it's now dispersed into a King Tubby/Harmonia–esque studio haze. In this regard, the band can't say enough nice things about Cream Cuts producer Monahan.

Was there anything about working with Monahan that surprised Tussle or enabled the group to surprise themselves? "He would do some interesting things," Burazer notes. "We were trying to get a good kick-drum sound the first or second day we were [in his studio], and he found a busted boom box and ripped the subwoofer out of it and turned it into a kick-drum mic. You know on 'Titan' [a standout on Cream Cuts] where it has all the drums at the end? We got pretty out there while we were doing that. A lot of that, we couldn't hear what we were playing. That was his idea.

"At first we thought, 'How do we approach this? Do we sculpt it into some kind of composition, or do we go balls-out and have it be what it is?' So we ended up recording and not even listening to what we were playing through the headphones, but hearing everything else and blending that in together and adding more layers or taking layers out."

For their next album, Tussle wouldn't mind enlisting Brian Eno to work the boards, but he might be out of their price range. They may have to "settle" for Monahan again. "Thom has a really good grasp of what we're doing and how we work," Burazer says. "We're talking about experimenting with vocals and breaking all the rules. Again."

That's funny, because I was going to ask Tussle to explain their sage decision not to use vocals. But Burazer allays fears that singing will mar Tussle's punchy instrumental attack: "It's an idea, like, what can we experiment with further? It wouldn't be sing-songy. It'll be—I dunno... You'll like it [laughs]. Maybe breathing sounds, not so much vocals, but the human voice in some way—cut up or chanting. It's like a color we never used."

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Listening to Tussle, one surmises that these guys have awesome record collections. Such musings make one wonder if they ever feel conflicted by how their favorite music can exert an overwhelming influence on their own sound. Do they have to fight the urge to emulate their favorite artists?

Burazer admits to tussling with those urges and chuckles. "Anything that comes up in writing and at practice, we ask ourselves if it sounds too much like this or can we make it sound not so much like that? But [our record collections are] like a guide to a certain place, to create a new thing. You can't be superconscious of not doing it or doing it. You just have to let it flow out, and in the editing process it gets cut or used. You can't be too conscious of it or it can get in the way of the creative process." recommended