Friday, March 26, 2010

Western Theater - Mighty Tiger

Western Theater

Mighty Tiger
Paper Garden Records.

SCQ Rating: 71%

A lesson to those toiling in the press-release market: just because you’re spilling nothing but accolades doesn’t mean you can’t hurt the album at the heart of it all. Take my nearly devastating first-listen to Western Theater which, prefaced by a well-written comparison to Sufjan Steven, had me stupefied over first cut ‘Voyeur Heaven’ and its campy, Animal Collective-lite enthusiasm. My heart literally deflated a little bit. Yet I consider that moment only nearly devastating because the following few months have revealed all that’s right with Mighty Tiger, like how their earthy-fresh arrangements eclipse any feeble indie-auteur comparisons. Besides, dude sounds like Ben Folds, c’mon now!

In stark contrast to their publicized rep for intrepid, heartwarming pop, Western Theater best promotes this Seattle-based quintet with its more reflective material. Mid-tempo and carefully layered, ‘Signature Cup’ builds its haze of tangible sounds – harmonizing vocals, distant keys – to impress upon listeners an unpredictable organic swoon. That same quiet majesty is woven into ‘A Reason To Keep Breathing’, which mans a sturdy piano progression before climbing like vapour into vertical offshoots and dissipating over multiple vocal harmonies. Perhaps the key to keeping these comparatively slower tracks lively lies in the band’s knack for a melody, as even minimally produced tracks like ‘Chibi Girl’, with its languid delivery and banjo, stick tightly to my memory cells. The versatility of these melodies rubs off on Mighty Tiger’s more pedestrian fare, as ‘Rook To King’ is motivated more by vocal lines than any pace-keeping percussion.

I’ll even admit that tracks like ‘Voyeur Heaven’ end up compulsory to appreciating Mighty Tiger’s significant scope, not only as expert arrangers but as quality songwriters. That sickening-then-charming zest for fun-loving pop translates from the vague Figure 8 Smith-isms of ‘33 1/3’ and lyrical landmines of ‘Ecto Cooler’ to a more remarkable, investable collection of songs. Not every song on Western Theater makes the grade but it’s worth checking out if only to find those slow-blossoming highlights well after you’ve written the disc off. The sunniest dark-horse record of 2010? Now there's a proclamation for the press-releases...

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