Artist: Tigers Jaw (nominally)
Audience: Not Tigers Jaw fans, that’s for sure.
Bottom Line: This isn’t Tigers Jaw anymore, it’s something a whole lot different and a whole lot less interesting.
Stand Out Songs: “Make It Up” that’s it. That’s literally the only song that sounds enough like old Tiger Jaw to justify the similarity in names between this band and the band that released Tigers Jaw.
Bands change over time. This is an unfortunate reality that fans have to live with. It’s the reason that songs like “All Your Favorite Bands” by Dawes hit so close to home. We’re not all invested in the semi-country twang, we’re not all enthralled by the laid-back vocals, but we all know the heartbreak of watching a beloved band break up. This isn’t a story about Dawes though, this is a story about Tigers Jaw.
For fans of gritty punk rock, the transition from unpolished emo-revival punk rock to pop music is worse than a break up. If we can’t have the band we want we’d rather not have a band at all. Sonic evolution is an inevitability, but the key for moderately popular bands like Tigers Jaw is to walk the line between mundane repetition and selling out with each incremental step forward. Too little change and fans are likely to keep spinning the old tracks. Too much change, and it would behove the band to just release the music under a new name (a practice that isn’t nearly common enough among bands undergoing drastic thematic changes, if you ask me). Mainstream bands can get away, I suspect, with bigger changes in their pursuit of pop culture themes because they don’t run the risk of ‘selling out’ (in a sense, they already have). Smaller bands can similarly escape criticism due to the size of their fan base and the sense of urgency introduced by an attempt to ‘make it.’ The danger of being a band on the brink of fame, but always on the outskirts of pop culture is the double-standard that new albums are measured against. Too similar to their old work and they’re not trying hard enough to move forward. Too different, and they’ve sold out. Either way, longstanding fans can find a way to dislike new releases that don’t sound ‘authentic’ enough. Unfortunately, with spin, it’s those longstanding fans that get it right. This isn’t Tigers Jaw: Walsh and Collins should stop kidding themselves that they can live up to the 2005-’13 performance that Adam McIlwee lent the band.
For people like myself, who were first introduced to Tigers Jaw by their eponymous album, songs like “Plane vs. Tank vs. Submarine” and “I Saw Water” sound more authentic than their newest album, spin. The questions that should concern us, however, are less to do with authenticity and more to do with fidelity. The question is not whether or not spin authentically reproduces the Tigers Jaw sound. The question is whether or not the new release is faithful to the legacy it emerged from.
On a purely cursory level, the album appears to follow in the footsteps of older Tigers Jaw releases. The album is full of succinct, punchy tracks that refrain from demanding too much of the listener. Over the course of 12 sons, Tigers Jaw has managed to construct a 42 minute album that falls on the low end of the “ideal album length spectrum.” Only two of the songs clock in at more than 4 minutes, and the majority fall well below the 3:30 mark. The concern of older fans is, at this point, aimed at discerning the motivation for such a long track list on such a relatively short album. In comparison to their eponymous album, spin is a full 12 minutes longer despite the addition of only two tracks overall. It seems to be a symptom of the trend away from emo-revival and towards pop that Tigers Jaw is producing tracks that are more similar in length now than they used to. Tigers Jaw includes two tracks over four minutes, but the majority of the songs are in the 2 minute range, with one reaching below 1:30. Track length alone can’t be the sole indicator that the band has drastically shifted direction. A slight increase in the regularity and length of tracks on an album isn’t in itself meaningful.
The damming evidence, however, that Tigers Jaw has fully jumped the tracks from folk-punk/emo-revival towards pop is the polish and sonic regularity that Tigers Jaw implements on the album. While “June” has garnered some support lately as the stand-out track of the album, I can’t see what field it’s supposed to stand out from. The various tracks on the album all sound so similar that the only thing that makes “June” stand out is that Ben Walsh isn’t the vocalist. The bright cymbals, quasi-hopeful lyrics, and subdued electric guitar backing are common to just about every track on the album. The problem here isn’t one of evolution and authenticity (these are original band members after all) the problem is one of fidelity. spin stubbornly rejects the legacy of Tigers Jaw and falls short on the promise that Charmer made. If Charmer was Collins’ promise to keep the old sound alive, she’s given up the ghost on the new album. Ben Walsh’s reintroduction to the band in 2016 after a 9 year hiatus didn’t do spin any favors. It may be a fine standalone album, but this isn’t Tigers Jaw anymore.
Who Is Tigers Jaw?
The real shame is that Tigers Jaw had a lot to prove with spin. It’s the second album since Tigers Jaw became the band it is today. Adam McIlwee, Dennis Mishko, and Pat Brier all left the band in 2013 before the release of Charmer. The difference between spin and Charmer, however, is the way that the remaining (so-called) core duo of Ben Walsh and Brianna Collins made a concerted effort to keep the sound of old Tigers Jaw alive in 2014. No such attempt was made with spin. Even the acoustic-opening to “Bullet” the song most similar to the old band eventually gives way to the same upbeat drumming, maudlin lyrics, and saccharine repetition that pepper the rest of the album. While I can’t say for sure that the sonic similarity isn’t just due to poor arrangement and bad production, the point that this is a different band still stands.
“Same Stone” is a lovely ballad, and it’s true that “June” is a stand-out track as one of the first Brianna Collins-compositions for Tigers Jaw. The major issue is, as I’ve said before, that this doesn’t sound like Tigers Jaw. The redeeming track, if there is one on spin, is the typically off-topic penultimate track. “Make It Up” introduces just enough angst and crunchy guitar to make it sound more faithful to the original band. While I’ll still maintain that Walsh’s vocals are ill suited to the genre, the instrumentation and mixing at least revives the imperfect beauty of the eponymous album. When Walsh sings, “It’s like rolling down the windows on the highway / It hurts to hear you say that I was only in the way” he brings back a little bit of that emo-revival that fans know and love from McIlwee’s tenure with the band. The track really is like rolling down the windows on the highway, it lets in just enough fresh air to drown out what we’ve been thinking through the entire album. It’s a welcome distraction from the monotony that’s persisted until now. It’s just such a shame that he feels the need to return to the monotony of the rest of the album for thematic reiteration (for the 11th time) on the finalé, “Window.”
Long story short: this is an album marred by stunning consistency throughout the album. The tracks blend together after a while, and the highway-trance of so-called ‘edgy’ pop-rock hits hard as listeners approach the b-side. It’s an unremarkable album, but remarkable insofar as it totally and utterly rejects the legacy that old members of Tigers Jaw left the remaining band members. It’s the kind of album that sounds tailor made for radio-play and for listeners to ask “Which song was that?” misidentifying track after track in an effort to differentiate such a monoloithic album.