When Tigers Jaw made the shocking, albeit slightly vague, announcement in March last year that three–fifths of the band was leaving, the community got in a bit of a tizzy. Ahead of spring tour plans in the US and UK, keyboardist/vocalist Brianna Collins informed that guitarist/vocalist Adam McIlwee, bassist Dennis Mishko and drummer Pat Brier would no longer continue with Tigers Jaw, and the upcoming shows as a duo comprised of Collins and guitarist/vocalist Ben Walsh would be the last "for the foreseeable future." Despite the statement's absence of the words "hiatus" or "breakup", fans assumed the worse and the rumor mill started to churn. While the UK tour was cancelled, Tigers Jaw carried on with their domestic shows amid a bevy of gossip that ranged from merely confused (are they breaking up–) to more cynical interpretations (a PR stunt). It would be several months later when Collins definitively rebuked any work stoppage and confirmed the existence of a new Tigers Jaw album. Charmer is documentation of that last incarnation.
Tracking Tigers Jaw's evolution from lo–fi guitar–and–drums band to indie's answer to emo revival is pretty easy, defined by calculated additions and subtractions, not wild trends. The self–titled sophomore full length took the ideas on Belongs to the Dead and refined them: turned up the guitars, added keys, sharpened the melodies and removed the noise. Two Worlds was faster and more intense, highlighting the anxiety often central to Tigers Jaw. On Charmer the music takes a chill pill. Midtempo drums and grungy chords set the tone for demurred guitar leads and long keyboard strokes. Songs like "Hum", "Teen Rocket" and "Softspoken" inform the listener of the emotional landscape before the first word is even sung. Where frustration–fueled melodies used to dominate, now survive hymns to passive resignation. It's not an exercise of restraint; it's a product of exhaustion. Even when they pick up the pace they're still dragging their feet. "Cool" features a relatively robust kick drum, but the fuzzy rhythm guitar never breaks stride, its monotonous strumming reinforced by the keyboard's extended notes. It complements McIlwee's drawn out delivery, and his demeanor – both angsty and indifferent ("It's a cruel world. But it's cool").
The type of vulnerable enthusiasm that previously allowed Tigers Jaw to throw it all in, song after song, has receded, uncovering a tamer version that picks their spots to channel their dynamism. The first minute of "Charmer" replicates McIlwee's blasé attitude, each instrument providing a light, repetitive part to substantiate his ostensible apathy directed at the female counterpart. He reenters the song pleading after a minute of tension building, everyone turned up a few notches, uninhibited and unashamed ("Hey, I need you, my new charmer"). However, that energy is more likely to come by way of a well placed or strategically articulated guitar. The 3–note lead in the middle of "Divide" is all it takes to shift the focus from "me" to "we." Album closer "What Would You Do" is essentially a six–minute loop that captivates with its sparse, taut guitar reminiscent of their alt–rock by way of pop–punk brethren, Brand New.
One of Tigers Jaw's greatest assets is their unfiltered honesty. Never shy about dredging the most intimate, surreal scenes from a relationship, their songs relate in a way the Billboard Top 40 can't. While that appeal is as prominent as ever, it often absolves Tigers Jaw of any ownership. Every character on Charmer is implicated – from the nervous kids to the soft–spoken. It's not difficult to comprehend the classic, one–dimensional, post–relationship pain confronted on "Frame You" and "Distress Signal." Your heartstrings pull for the narrator on "Charmer" and "What Would You Do" who just wants some attention. But in every narrative one thing is certain: Tigers Jaw are their biggest obstacle. When not debating whether to call or talking in circles, they're wrapped up in thought and losing sleep. It's vetted emo imagery – hard not to roll your eyes, but easy to relate (who hasn't thought, "I don't want to be lost like this anymore" and wished for a distress signal–)
And therein lies the problem: the themes are too familiar, obscuring the subject and detaching it from reality. Experiences are never this linear or collected. Tigers Jaw's ability to capture the emotions and complexities of a situation separated them from their contemporaries. Songs like "I Saw Water", "Crystal Vision" and "Coil/Recoil" detail common feelings in all their intricacies and intensity, rendering them both relatable and authentic. Charmer isn't devoid of these moments, but they are few and far between (e.g. "What Would You Do" and "Slow Come On"). In that sense, the last record from this iteration of Tigers Jaw assumes a similar position as that of the individual on the title track – not the protagonist, but the charmer: affable to the point of reprehension; so impervious it's desirable.