Saturday, March 14, 2009

Review: This Town Needs Guns - Animals (* * * *)

UK band This Town Needs Guns have been impressing critics and fans overseas with the release of their debut album, Animals, which has been out in the UK since October, but is only just now being made available in the States. The appropriately named record features 13 tracks with animals for titles (Pig, Elk, Crocodile, etc.) that, as the band stated in an interview, was the result of an original way to label songs with working names and an inability to give them proper titles later on. So, no true 'concept' album here, but an impressive collections of well-crafted indie rock tunes nonetheless featuring some exceptional talent from this young band.

The most immediately noticeable aspect of Animals is Tim Collis' complex guitar work that dominates the instrumental nature of the record. Blistering, yet clean, subdued riffs swirl constantly around singer Stuart Smith, resulting in a sound something like an over-active version of Minus the Bear guitarist Dave Knudson. The style keeps the songs feeling restless, and when combined with Smith's earnest tenor vocals, the effect is head-spinning and electrifying. Occasionally, Collis could stand to cut back a bit, but more often than not, the songs work exceptionally well, and while the rhythm section of Jamie Cooper and Chris Collis generally takes a back seat here, their playing is no less admirable.

Opener "Pig" is one of the better examples of the group's ability to allow the melody to shine through the instrumental activity, with a driving beat and story of a worn relationship that packs an emotional punch. Most of the album varies slightly from that same theme, with highlights including the instrumental, horn-laced "Elk," the more direct alt-rock tune "Panda," and the relatively relaxed "Crocodile." While Smith's vocals have a bit of an emo tinge to them, as do the lyrics (which can take some time to divine), he's never whiny or so self-depreciating that he becomes tiring, and his sense of melody is generally sharp. The band work in elements of jazz, blues, etc. into the music subtly and it may take a few spins before the songs fully differentiate themselves, but a little patience will be well rewarded.

It's refreshing to hear a young band explore new territory with such strong results, and Animals is good evidence of what looks to be a bright future for This Town Needs Guns. The group's blending of math-rock technicality with a more emotional and approachable edge makes their music both easy to appreciate and enjoy, and it makes me excited to hear what happens next.


Alex said...

the trumpet in elk is amazing

nice album