TTNG - (Cover Artwork)

TTNG (2013)

Sargent House

Going into, I was hoping to hear something a little more multi-dimensional than their debut LP, which featured songs that were all named after animals and all sounded pretty much the same to boot. I quite enjoyed some of the dextrous, tapped guitar playing, though, and my issues weren't really with the band's sound, which was quite well-executed, but with the lack of variety and somewhat irksome "emo" vocals which I understand are apropos to the style. As a full-length record, it wasn't really blowing my mind, especially compared to other "math rock" groups that played more interesting music often without vocals (see: Giraffes? Giraffes!, Charles the Osprey). Technically speaking these guys have always been excellent, despite a few lineup changes since their initial EP, hopping odd meteres like it's nothing and writing nice melodies to compliment their instrumental wankery.

The wankery is certainly more crafted on, however. The basic idea is the same: syncopated, calculus-derived drumming, crystalline guitar leads, and squeaky clean vocals. TTNG seem to have more of an ear for atmosphere this time around, incorporating electronic elements like the little rhythmic glitches on "I'll Take the Minute Snake," which feels larger and more textured overall than any other song they've ever written. It's also exemplary of a slightly more ambitious songwriting angle that's not at all unwelcome here. "Havoc in the Forum," for example, is pretty clever about introducing the drums and building itself into a stellar outro, giving the feeling of actually going somewhere in a quick three minutes. "Left Aligned" is a cool slower song, too, keeping things interesting with some great drumming and letting things dissolve before launching into the final section. Pretty solid first side, then. I especially like the inclusion of acoustic guitars on "2 Birds, 1 Stone and an Empty Stomach," and the instrumental "In the Branches of Yggdrasil" helps break up the busier tunes and prevents things from becoming sonically fatiguing like they often did on the first record.

Another instrumental, "Nice Riff, Clifford," is almost a little too heavy on the electronics but it's another example of the band trying to create a more varied and constructed album rather than just throwing together a bunch of jams. That being said, I wouldn't mind a few more vocal-less tracks, especially given the strength of the musicianship and arrangements here. "Pygmy Polygamy," for example, has a classical-style fingerpicked riff that I'd love to hear developed a little more rather than just run into the ground.

Though TTNG have apparently acquired a new vocalist he has the same soft "emo" tenor that pervaded on Animals and though many of the angular vocal melodies he pulls out are actually really well done, I can't really get down with the (dare I say it?) pesudo-whine of its tone. The lyrics are a little more abstracted, too, and while I was surprised by how smart they were on the first record, things aren't so striking here ("tear jerker?" Come on, man). Ultimately this isn't really a big deal, though, as the emphasis here is more on the sculpted instrumentation and the lyrics really just serve as a vessel for another layer of melodic interplay.

The production has found a sweet spot, for sure. It's innocuous enough not to draw attention away from the music itself while giving the drums the presence they need to emphasize TTNG's crazy rhythms and the guitar the room it needs for obvious reasons. It's just nice to hear some dynamics in this kind of music on both a micro level in songs like "A Different Kind of Tall (Small)" and a macro level over the course of the record itself. An EP was really the perfect format for the band to display its initial hand of cards, which is likely why their first release is held in such high regard compared to Animals. Some improved diversity and novel musical ideas make a much more interesting listen, though, and it's nice to hear a math rock band bringing more than just math to their songwriting sensibilities.