I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.
…Unless I decide to skip around the alphabet. In fact, I believe I’ll focus exclusively on netlabel releases for all of April…
(Wise Owl Records, 2009)
Never have I had such a difficult time figuring out where a band is coming from. That is not a bad thing – in fact, it’s quite fun trying to get inside a band’s head and pick apart the inspiration and intuition. For The Tiger Who Came to Tea, a Wise Owl Records veteran, a cursory glance at the Myspace page reveals virtually nothing. The stats:
Location: Norwich, East, UK
Members: The Tiger – Everything [So I guess there’s only one band member…]
Bio: For people who like their songs in 4/4 and C major.
Sounds Like: I believe you have ears
“The Tiger” logged in last in January of this year. So that at least presumes some activity. Can’t say as much for his record label, though, as Wise Owl hasn’t updated their blog since April of last year. But at least they still have their catalog available for download, including this album, so get thee there. But of course the label doesn’t really do much in the way of explanation either, calling The Tiger Who Came to Tea “Spastic reverb-drenched instrumental rock. Definitely not your typical post-rock album.” Despite offering little in the way of marketing or promo material, after listening to the record, I’d have to agree with that sentiment. And annoying as it is at first – and why would you normally care about something if you don’t know what it is? – relying on your ears, as The Tiger suggests, can be the most rewarding method of discovery.
Well, of course now you have this review, so… I guess I’ve thwarted the entire process. Sigh.
The most immediate characteristic is the drums – they are an integral and firm foundation to Tiger tracks, and have a sturdy and evocative presence throughout, making me ever-so-briefly flirt with uttering the “instrumental hip hop” term here, but I’m going to refrain, save for the RIYL section. Don’t worry about that though. What you should really understand is how the percussion fills the room, slightly distorted for maximum blurred vision as your head reverberates from the sound. It reminds me of The Flaming Lips’ use of studio space on Transmission from the Satellite Heart’s closer “Slow Nerve Action,” or Dave Fridmann’s penchant for mic-ing drums for maximum effect. (And Transmissions was before Fridmann and the Lips began their collaboration – great minds, I guess.) But the opening tracks here feature nimble guitar, explosive dynamic shifts, and superb melodic construction, even though it’s just one dude in a room. Both “Seven and I Bet That’s All” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” could have led this album off equally well, both powerful and appealing. “Perks” even gives way to chunky guitar two-thirds of the way through, over which a string sample is layered – nice contrast.
And the album is paced well too. Four songs in we get “Rvrb,” a slow, meditative piece that breaks up the drum claps. (And I lv drppng vwls whnvr pssble too. Try it, it’s grvy.) But companion slow jam, track 7 “Rachel,” is the real winner, as it ebbs and flows, dropping in an early crescendo, then repeating it later to close out the song. Imagine slow dancing at your high school prom, then at the peak emotional moment everyone in the room blooms with thousands of beautiful pointed barbs, instantly killing the entire guest list. Hmm, that’s actually kind of a weird analogy, but the result is gorgeous.
“Batteries and Clocks” and “Shkin” are a little more mathy and metronomic, placed in between “Rvrb” and “Rachel,” and while not outstanding, are nice where they’re placed. The album ends on some weirder moments, “13 Years and Still the Man for Us” being the dubby standout. I must repeat, this whole record is a nice exercise in recording technique, its fuzz on elements like bass and drums softening some of the impact but contrasting nicely with the melodies for a fully formed experience. The Tiger’s technique is a good one, but I wonder if he would benefit from outside inspiration – perhaps he’ll cobble together a full band to see where that takes him. I’d certainly be interested in hearing that. But this is still worth your time, and a completely interesting find. Download here.
Oh, and for the curious, “The Tiger Who Came to Tea” is also a short children’s story. I’m not sure if I’d like a tiger visiting me at teatime or not – he’d have to be a really nice tiger I guess. And not hungry.
RIYL: instrumental “Slow Nerve Action”; instrumental “So What’cha Want”; My Silver Booster; instrumental version of the “heartache” part of “Velvet Blues”