Three Trapped Tigers Route One or Die(Blood and Biscuits) Buy it from Insound
Better late than never, eh? Originally, this was going to be a review of Noise Trade, the forthcoming single from London trio Three Trapped Tigers, however, on finding out that No Ripcord was without a review for the band’s debut album, despite it coming out two months ago, that seemed like a bigger priority (besides, when the B-Sides to a single are just a different edit and a remix, it’s not really worth talking about). ‘Priority’ might seem like a rather overly important term to use when discussing an album review, especially one for yet another post-rock/electronica inspired act, but somehow it seems entirely justified in Three Trapped Tigers’ case as after releasing three EPs of bonkers, frenetic and slightly alien math rock they’ve gone and recorded what might be one of the best debuts by a British act in years (its absence from this year’s Mercury Music Prize shortlist is both incredibly disappointing and completely unsurprising).
There may be some points of comparison – Battles have been name-checked in numerous reviews, and it would be true to say that both acts do share a common interest in utilising their musical ability to create something primal and thrilling (simultaneously as complex as the wanky solos that populate prog and metal and as far removed in terms of effect) and a drummer noisily abusing his kit in an effort to keep up with the frantic time signatures – but it doesn’t seem wholly satisfying, Three Trapped Tigers being both a lot more rough around the edges and more consistent than their New York counterparts. Elsewhere occasional flashes of other influences can be identified – the ragged guitar that pops up in the aforementioned Noise Trade recalls Aphex Twin’s Come to Daddy, while Magne combines the clicking, clattering beats that featured prominently on his Drukqs album with a warm Boards of Canada-alike riff (and, later on, a one note guitar solo worthy of The Edge). But really, any attempt to frame Three Trapped Tigers’ within references to other acts feels a bit contrived – for example, I was sorely tempted to brand it the sound of a rock and jazz act uniting to cover an 8-bit soundtrack, which just seems inelegant and a bit stupid really. Three Trapped Tigers are very much their own beast, every bit as wild and ferocious as their name would suggest. And while it does reek somewhat of overly romantic myth-making, the band’s formation story - in which front-man Tom Rogerson abandoned a career as a classical pianist after being introduced to the output of Warp records - does seem like a fitting explanation for their carefully controlled chaos.
The band’s song-writing method should also take a lot of the credit for their distinct sound, as it involves them initially using sequencers and drum machines to plan out their material, before attempting to reproduce it with live instruments, pushing themselves as far as they can to potential failure (hence drummer Adam Betts having to twist himself into inhuman shapes in order to keep up). It could easily just be exhausting and overly cerebral, or, more likely a complete mess, but in truth it’s ridiculously thrilling (or, in the appropriately titled Creepies’ case, thrillingly frightening). The potential cacophony always seems to gel, even when it threatens to completely break down and starts to sound like the ZX Spectrum loading screen (a noise that will invoke a Proustian rush in any nerdy kid raised in the early 80s) - there’s still a lot of pleasure to be derived from discerning the patterns and individual sounds, and the forcefully pounding rhythms grab the heart as much as the head, even if you can’t technically dance to them.
In fact it’s when the band takes their foot off the pedal a little that things get less interesting; the mid-section of Ulnastricter feels unformed, chasing its tail like an excitable puppy while Zil is just pleasant tinkling accompanied by sound effects from the BBC Radiophonic workshop. That’s not to say that both aren’t perfectly listenable, but when the album’s this short (stretching to eight tracks), any missteps become amplified.
Undeniably, it’s too complicated and noisy to appeal to a mass audience, yet when the majority of buzz acts seem designed to appeal as much to parents as their kids, that’s probably something to be celebrated, and hopefully many will still find it to be an instantly rewarding listen. Route One or Die is many things – immense, joyful, weird and above all aptly titled, as you’d be hard-pressed to find another debut album released this year – British or otherwise – that sounds so completely vibrant and alive.12 August, 2011 - 05:20 — Mark Davison