Tigers Jaw - spin (Cover Artwork)

Tigers Jaw

spin (2017)

Black Cement

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, full 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-back rhythm-heavy songwriting of Fleetwood Mac’s seminal Rumours than anything indie emo revival. Present too was a similar emotional exhaustion. 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. No time is wasted in introducing this fact. From the very first second, spin 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 the song forward with relentless energy; the drums sound huge; Collins’ backing vocals are wide and glistening—it’s a Tigers Jaw I would never have imagined before, but after hearing it, it’s the only sound that makes sense. The next track ‘Favorite’ is similar, but shorter, and 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, too. 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 front and centre for the first time. Her voice is gorgeous. 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,’ the first single released, 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.

From here, spin, like Charmer, begins to lose momentum. The songs of the second half are all really good, with some nice surprises included, such as a sudden surge in energy during ‘Oh Time,’ but there is a definite move toward the dragged-feet sound of Charmer, and the lyrics begin to lean toward that passive melancholy. By the final quarter of the album, the vocal melodies and deliveries 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 emotionally-heavy lyrics at a pace that really could have been faster. Twelve songs feels excessive by this point. It should have been ten. On repeat listens only the most dedicated fans will play the record to the end. But it’s not much of a complaint, because the moment track one begins to play again, it grabs you by the collar and pulls you along with the ecstatic enthusiasm of the Tigers Jaw we all fell in love with, 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.