What does a musician do when they’re forced to spend months in absolute, total silence? In the case of Inner Tongue, they simply continue on as before: writing lyrics, harmonies and melodies, working on perfect beats, all the time unsure how, when – or indeed whether – the individual components will ever be combined. Fortunately, on this occasion we can skip straight to a happy ending: in May 2015, Inner Tongue releases his debut EP, Tz, Ka.
A project undertaken by one man in his mid twenties, Inner Tongue offers the sound of victory over an uncertain future: in 2013, its exponent was diagnosed with a vocal cord disorder so severe that only a handful of specialists throughout the entire world were capable of treating it at all. Still, given that the gift of a voice is sacred to a musician, he worked day and night to raise the funds necessary to pay for the required operation, and, after the procedure, embarked on a protracted period of silence. With this, inevitably, came the unbearable uncertainty of not knowing whether he’d ever be able to use his voice as he once had.
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“Until the first follow-up appointment,” Inner Tongue explains, “I hid myself in total silence in my apartment. I was totally depressed, and refused to write any music. But somehow I was drawn from my sofa to my piano, and tried to overcome my fear. So I decided to modify my musical focus temporarily by writing songs which could produce a melodic tension without vocals, but which featured the traits of forward-looking pop music. What emerged came from an entirely new perspective. It was as if someone had pressed a reset button on the musical identity I had of myself.”
Eight months after the operation, Inner Tongue was at last able to use his voice fully, and it turned out that not only is his unlikely history sensational, but also his talent. Working in his current home base of Vienna amid a thriving electronic scene – though he finds as much inspiration in the quiet serenity of the mountains as in the hustle and bustle of the city – the all-rounder wrote and produced his songs alone, before gathering musician friends around him to arrange them. (Even his videos, conceived with an ambitious sense of his overall artistic vision, are made with close allies on his own initiative.) Having recorded the tracks, he then travelled around the world in pursuit of vital finishing touches, calling upon Matt Boynton (MGMT, Kurt Vile etc.) in New York, and, especially, John Catlin (Foals, Warpaint, The Naked And Famous etc.) in London.
The resulting work combines the lightness of touch that distinguishes Death Cab For Cutie, the heartfelt perfection found in SOHN’s sonic realms, and the intuition evident in Chet Faker. ‘Fallen Empire’ cleverly knits deft, nonchalant beats with elements that at times recall James Blake, while ‘Tz Ka’ boasts delicacy and astonishing depth. The EP’s standout track, however is undeniably ‘Somebody Knows It’: opening with a ballad-like piano, it’s soon reinforced by subdued drums and floating synths, and by the time his gentle, vulnerable voice appears, it’s clear that something extraordinary is happening. Remarkably, furthermore, ‘Somebody Knows It’ worked on the very first take. “That was a really emotional moment for me,” Inner Tongue recalls with pleasure. “Until then I honestly wasn’t sure I would ever sing my own songs again.”
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Classifying such hypnotic, understated pop isn’t easy, but the result is a small miracle, and the lust for life unleashed by the successful realisation of Inner Tongue’s creativity penetrates his restraint with a tranquil but substantial force. As the video for ‘Fallen Empire’ illustrates so beautifully, he’s not afraid to make his own rules. Whether the joy is in the game or the victory, however, is anybody’s guess.