Album Review: Miniature Tigers – Fortress

Could Miniature Tigers be your next favorite band? Could Fortress be a contender for top album of the year?

As one of the biggest surprises of 2010, it was hard to call how this would go given their all too ordinary back catalogue of standardized indie rock that was fun but plainly just that. Now on their second record, it seems that Fortress is their way to take the next step from CMJ prospect to broader legitimacy. So here they are, stepping up to the challenge of not falling by the wayside and they’ve succeeded tremendously. So could this be your next flavor of the summer, if not year? Lofty idea, but I think so.

Is it perfect? For the Tigers, so close it hurts. It’s a creative step that doesn’t go overboard, fitting the band like a glove without being trite. It’s quite the reinvention, taking on a more production-centered sound, and they know how to take advantage of the situation. The Neon Indian-produced “Gold Skill” is a treat with its harmonies and electronics. The bass makes it a less flamboyant Of Montreal, with the danceable synths and vocal effects taking on the Neon touch. This is them very much so outside their box yet it works so naturally making the idea that they have a “box” irrelevant now.

The songs talk about feeling stranded in life, love, and the usual trappings. A little personal, but never getting too touchy, writing about what’s happening at the moment of the song, and never so much a deliberate personal reflection meant to be deep. The music creates the depth itself as frontman-guitarist Charlie Brand sings, “Living in a dark tower getting darker by the hour will I wake up…nothing can awake me from myself” on “Dark Tower”. The repetitive lyrics leave reverberations that pile on the layers.

The band can also reach high and rock out, while at the same time give a strummed 60’s slow burner, stripping it down to the basics, as in the case of the ending to “Egyptian Robes”, which leaves us with just a tambourine, a guitar, and some choice vocals. As a lighter bohemian moment, “Lolita” is laid back enough for a Wes Anderson movie, but it too blows out the guitars in the thick of things showing you the back and forth nature the Tigers have now hallmarked. Opener “Mansion Of Misery” and “Japanese Woman Living in my Closet” serve the other, louder end of the spectrum with a full blast of catchy rock that dominates the room.

It’s that stylistic range that separates the new Tigers from the old. Fortress is never confined, and ,most importantly, never wears thin. The songs can change direction, too. On the five minute “Egyptian Robe”, it walks powerfully with legs that stretch on forever. Forever in a good way, mind you. This isn’t a band that wastes any time or space. If there’s a potential gap, they fill it in with timely electronic blips and chimes, as is the case with “Coyote Enchantment”, which pays the closest attention to detail. This sort of construction isn’t particular to this song, however. Each track here makes one commitment, which is to be a solid listen, from end to end. As a result, the album follows suit.

Solid and strong, earnest and heartfelt. Four qualities that could sell any listener. While tunes like the essential “Lolita” or the exuberant “Coyote Enchantment” make up for half of those adjectives, one could argue that the deal was set by the time the anthemic chants of “Bullfighter Jacket” rung out. After all, that’s when the light first hit. But altogether, it’s something else. In sum, Miniature Tigers want nothing more from you than excitement, and Fortress is that desire and energy manifested on wax. This is a record that never loses its biggest strength: precision. If they can keep this up, look out.


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