Can Tigers Jaw write a bad song? Five full-lengths and a handful of EPs in, all signs point to no. 2013 saw a fragile Tigers Jaw recover from the departure of three of the five band members, leaving just Brianna Collins and Ben Walsh. Where before the band’s energetic sound had soared with shimmering confidence despite the trademark raw and vulnerable lyrics, 2014’s ‘Charmer’ introduced a new Tigers Jaw. Softer, both in performance and production, and more mellow and mid-tempo, the record owed more to the stripped-down, rhythm-heavy, emotionally exhausted songwriting of Fleetwood Mac’s seminal ‘Rumours’ than anything indie/emo revival. Previously bursting with a frantic, anxious enthusiasm, Tigers Jaw had matured into something passively sad, and more vulnerable than ever.
A lot can change in three years. With ‘spin,’ Tigers Jaw have rediscovered themselves, and created the biggest, loudest and most confident album of their career. From the first instant, the record bursts into the up-tempo and delightfully hooky ‘Follows.’ It’s classic Tigers Jaw, but there’s something different about it. Walsh’s voice is sweeter and more impressive than ever; a wall of reverb-washed guitars surges forward with relentless energy; the drums sound huge; Collins’ backing vocals are wide and glistening—it’s a Tigers Jaw previously unimaginable, but now the only one that makes sense. The next track ‘Favorite’ wouldn’t be out of place on ‘Two Worlds.’ Fans of Walsh’s heartbreaking honesty will get their fix when he sings “What’s your favorite way to dull the pain? / I haven’t found a way to replace you / but I wish I could.” Some interesting phasing effects occur on the guitars during the bridge. This record is mixed to perfection (if maybe a little too well-balanced), and a lot of nice touches become apparent on later listens.
Collins’ song ‘June’ showcases her gorgeous voice front and center for the first time. It’s one of the band’s best tracks to date. Pitchfork calls its chorus the best melody the band has ever written, and while I disagree with that, it’s without a doubt the most poppy. Lyrically, it encourages a friend’s recovery from emotional abuse. Lines such as “Cruel one convinced you in his stillness / in a dream, safe and harmless” and “I can see you and the ache you’re hiding / I’m here, you know I’ll always remind you” juxtapose with the sugary sweetness of the music. The catharsis is undeniable. On ‘Escape Plan’ the record takes a sudden turn. An acoustic number that builds to a driving crescendo, it’s the best example of the new Tigers Jaw. The fragile vulnerability of ‘Charmer’ is there, but so is the confidence of a band sure of itself again. Collins’ keyboard provides a nice harmony behind the guitars, but again the mix feels a little too perfectly balanced; the keyboard and backing vocals could be more prominent. ‘Guardian’ marks the halfway point. It’s one delicious hook after the next, with excellent lyrics and an instrumental section that’s sure to be a hit live.
Two-thirds in, ‘spin’ begins to lose momentum. The songs on this end are all really good with some nice surprises included, but there’s a definite move toward the dragged-feet sound of ‘Charmer,’ and the lyrics start to lean toward that passive melancholy. The vocal melodies begin to feel recycled, and the lack of experimentation with tempo becomes evident. As the record ends, a feeling of exhaustion lingers after the final two tracks, which, at four minutes long each, deliver heavy lyrics at a pace that really could be faster. Twelve songs feels excessive by this point. It should be ten. On repeat listens only the most dedicated fans will play the record to the end. But these are minor complaints, because when track one plays again, the ecstatic enthusiasm of the Tigers Jaw we all fell in love with is infectious, and the journey is enticing all over again.
‘spin’ is a damn good album, if a little too long and repetitive. It’s the one we’ve been waiting for. With fresh enthusiasm and a big, glossy sound, Tigers Jaw have never sounded so sure of themselves. The symbolism of this record being the first release on producer Will Yip’s Black Cement Records, as well as the band’s first on a major label, is hard to ignore. This is a record of rebirth. Long live Tigers Jaw.
Tigers Jaw are currently on tour in support of ‘spin’…
22 May – The Broadberry, Richmond, VA
23 May – Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC
24 May – The Masquerade, Atlanta, GA
25 May – 1904 Music Hall, Jacksonville, FL
26 May – The Crowbar, Tampa, FL
27 May – Kelsey Theatre, Lake Park, FL
29 May – White Oak Music Hall, Houston, TX
30 May – The Mohawk, Austin, TX
31 May – Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill, Dallas, TX
02 June – The Nile, Mesa, AZ
03 June – The Glass House, Pomona, CA
04 June – The Regent, Los Angeles, CA
06 June – Slim’s, San Francisco, CA
07 June – Goldfield Trading Post, Sacramento, CA
09 June – Hawthorne Theatre, Portland, OR
10 June – El Corazon, Seattle, WA
12 June – The Complex, Salt Lake City, UT
13 June – Marquis Theatre, Denver, CO
15 June – Metro, Chicago, IL
16 June – Cabooze, Minneapolis, MN
17 June – El Club, Detroit, MI
18 June – Velvet Underground, Toronto, Canada
20 June – Grog Shop, Cleveland, OH
21 June – Rex theater, Pittsburgh, PA
22 June – Webster Hall, New York, NY
23 June – Union Transfer, Philadelphia, PA
24 June – Royale, Boston, MA
26 June – Gallery Of Sound, Wilkes Barre, PA
‘spin’ is out now via Black Cement Records.