Tuesday Microgrooves’ ‘Bigger Than Us’ — my favorite album of 2020 so far

Album cover by Carina Antl

I first learned about Austrian jazz crossover band Tuesday Microgrooves when they collaborated with fellow Austrian Conchita Wurst back in early 2019.

Not because the band hadn’t already made a name for themselves in the Austrian music scene, as they had, but simply because I am a relatively new transplant to the country, so still catching up.

The collaboration was a cover of Eurovision Song Contest winner Loreen’s song ‘Jupiter Drive and, while not a fan of the original, I thought the Conchita/Tuesday Microgrooves version was beautiful. Slowed down and made elegant as it was.

As a music journalist with so many bands and singers both inside and outside of Austria to keep track of, however, I have to admit I had not listened to much else Tuesday Microgrooves had released.

Not until last week, when the band contacted me to see if I was interested in giving their just released fourth studio album Bigger Than Us a listen.

Tuesday Microgrooves’ Bigger Than Us crowdfunding project

Bigger Than Us was released after the band’s crowdfunding project to raise money towards its recording and release costs.

The album itself was created as part of the band’s 10 year anniversary.

As Tuesday Microgrooves said in their video promoting the crowdfunding:

“We wanted to do something special. An opus that concludes the first decade and heralds the second. We wanted to make it bigger, more exciting, and simply outstanding.”

They realized soon after getting started, however, the album project was becoming bigger than they had anticipated and featuring a lot more musicians than they had originally planned.

That then is why their successful crowdfunding project occurred.

(I am sharing their promotional crowdfunding video below as it is a lovely little piece but, more importantly, it showcases some of the artists involved in Bigger Than Us, and I always think every artist should be acknowledged for the work they do).

That Tuesday Microgrooves then went on to produce an album that is, quite seriously, one of the best predominantly instrumental works I have heard in years is…well, I would say astounding if I was in any other country the size of tiny Austria.

The truth however is that, once you know anything about Austrian musicians, you shouldn’t be surprised at all at the high-caliber of work the majority seem to produce.

After all, this is the country of composers like Mozart, Schubert, Strauss (at least four of them), Haydn, Liszt and Mahler, and that kind of immense talent seems to have rubbed off on many of the country’s modern day artists as well.

Tuesday Microgrooves’ Bigger Than Us album

As an independent music journalist, I am usually overworked and highly-stressed. So, when an artist contacts me to ask if I will listen to their album, I often give a couple of tracks a cursory listen in the background while I’m doing something else.

If it doesn’t grab me quickly, I immediately move on.

With Bigger Than Us, I hadn’t even heard the first 30 seconds of the first track ‘A Certain Doom‘ before I had put down what I was doing and given it my full attention.

Because you know that music that embodies how you feel on what may be your worst day. The day you feel such hope and then realize the person you love so much it hurts doesn’t love you and never will. The day you understand that certain doom you always knew was underneath the surface is finally up close. The day your heart might explode.

That’s this track. Melancholic and heart-wrenching, and that brings out such a mix of emotions, it just made me cry.

After what seems like a thousand listens since, and ‘A Certain Doom’ is still my favorite track on the album. But…every other track also leaves a similar imprint on your soul.

Each feature soul-grabbing and often quite unnerving piano, double bass, cello, violin and viola, drums and electronics, as the album moves through a variety of musical genres.  Genres that often change during the same track. Sometimes at almost breath-taking speed.

Ursula Reicher’s vocals on this album are superb

Parkhouse‘, for instance, is unsettling as it begins with a gorgeous mellow piano you are just relaxing into until it switches to a drum track and then pulls in singer Ursula Reicher.

Her vocals almost seem harsh at first as they are so much more intentionally jarring than the early part of the song. More modern, more avant-garde, yet still with a rich jazz feel to them. And still so sad — “You are so distant. You are so close”.

Parkhouse‘ moves through its almost 11-minute length, and what seems like 10 different genres — classical, jazz, soul, electro, progressive, experimental — until, in the latter half, it is back to that beautiful piano melody, with an underlying drum track, Ursula Reicher’s almost meditative vocals — “Every leaf reminds me of your words. They all fall on the ground” — and an urgency it did not begin with.

Until it ends with the strains of somber strings and the echoes of a love soon to be lost.

And yes, just in case you couldn’t tell, Ursula Reicher is someone I need to check out more as, ye gods, her voice is stunning.

As I am a sucker for melancholic piano, “Just Thinking” is another track on the album that grabbed me, as its melody is so lovely. Until, like several tracks on Bigger Than Us, it stops dead and then becomes…something else… with an equally beautiful melody, and rich, rhythmic strings.

And this is the wonder of Tuesday Microgrooves’ Bigger Than Us.

As it is not only that each instrument, every vocal, every genre on the album is so perfect in its own right, it is that they are mixed and used and evolve in such a way they are surprising, devastatingly emotional and yet always keep you on your toes.

Because there is no settling in and relaxing to any of these stunning tracks, as they move and change and rise and fall and soar as fast as the wind.

Action Hero‘, the last of the eight tracks, reintroduces Ursula Reicher’s gorgeous vocals. The track itself is best described by Tuesday Microgrooves themselves who say it is:

‘A song of opposites, electronics versus handcrafted, closeness versus distance, openness versus closure, and simplicity versus complexity.’

It is huge, it is immensely satisfying, and it is this incredibly complex album’s perfect grand finale.

In other words, all of this attempt of mine to explain how the music feels with words (and it is impossible, because it feels different for every person), if you have not yet listened to Bigger Than Us, it is the album I am recommending as my favorite of 2020 so far.

And, so, you should.

(The whole utterly superb album is listenable in the Spotify player below this article).

Tuesday Microgrooves photographed by Carina Antl

Who is Tuesday Microgrooves?

Just in case, like me, you wander through Austria a bit unaware, Tuesday Microgrooves are:

Wolfgang Radl – Bass
Jenö Lörincz – Piano
Sigrid Narowetz – Cello
Ursula Reicher – Vocals
Norbert Wallner – Drums

Other musicians on Bigger Than Us include Step Saturn, electronics, Ursula Reicher, vocals, Michael Leitner, violin, Remigiusz Gaczynski, violin, Lin Ruei-Cheng, viola and Raphael Meinhart, mallets.

Some tracks have also been recorded in 3D Audio in co-operation with the IEM Graz (Institute of Electronic Music and Acoustics).

You can learn more about that on Tuesday Microgrooves website.

And, of course, buy this bloody beautiful album here. If you do, you will also get some unreleased tracks just to add to all that utter utter gorgeousness.

Oh and yes, you can guarantee, I will be paying Tuesday Microgrooves a HELLUVA lot more attention in the future than I have in the past.

Michelle Topham