Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tiger Saw dances in the dark

Tiger Saw's latest, the aptly named "Nightingales," has been billed as a flight back to the nest, of sorts, a return to the Newburyport-born, Portland-based band's slowcore roots, and it's difficult to argue with that assessment, especially after the stylistic detour that was "Tigers on Fire," the controversial 2007 album that reinvented Saw as a kind-of white-kid basement soul dance band, horn section and all. So, yeah, there's a little back to the future feel to it. But, despite some obvious similarities in form and, to a certain extent, content, “Nightingales” finds Tiger Saw in a completely different place —  lyrically, musically, emotionally — from, say, the sweetness and innocence of, "Blessed Art the Trials We Will Find," the band's Kimchee debut, or the joyous, celebratory, everybody-all-together “Sing," from the midpoint of the band's decade-long run. Yeah, the songs, for the most part, are still sweet, sad and, at times, heartachingly beautiful, and have an ineffable yet smoldering sadness — and a terrible, well-remembered longing. And, perhaps most significantly, the new material puts the spotlight back on the interplay of male and female voices to an extent not seen since cellist and vocalist Juliet Nelson left the band three years ago. But Emily Forsythe, probably best known for her work with the Boston-based St. Claire, steps into the duet role with founder Dylan Metrano as earth to Nelson's cosmos, body to her spirit, fire to her cool, ethereal breeze. And, this time out, there's a lot more miles on the vehicle. The shadows are longer, almost stark, and the lines on the faces of the characters, the people whose lives are described more pronounced. And Tiger Saw, a constantly shifting musical collective, is doing it, mostly, with a rootsy, waltzy string quartet as accompaniment. No, it’s never easy with this band.

Released last month on Burst & Bloom, “Nightingales” is a collection of 10 songs about, or, a least, inspired by, the night, a conceit that all but invites a bleak experience — and, with songs about friends and lovers about growing up and, ultimately, apart, about worlds, for better or worse, left behind, colored by bittersweet nostalgia and the kind of cold understanding that comes only from distance, there's a fair amount of depression, seeming desperation on the album, despite its warm, richly textured, emotionally complex presentation. But "Nightingales," which takes its name from the bird whose song is known for its complex range of whistles, trills and gurgles, is much more than that. Metrano and Saw find light enough to coax nuance from the darkness, colors, however muted, from the shadows — even cause for hope. Night takes many forms, from the existential constant of the opener, "Only the Night Is Unchanged," to the staging area for resurrection, beneath the purr, as they would have it on the closing number, where self, with its troublesome consciousness, is finally discarded and everything we are is amplified — a kind of death, of the past, and a definite rebirth. It may well be Tiger Saw's most mature work to date, but it's also the culmination of everything the band has been doing for the past decade. Besides, for all the supposed sweetness and light of the older stuff, there’s always been an emotional complexity concealed in the simplicity, wisdom in apparent innocence, which  manages to find depth, even in simplicity.

"Nightingales" picks up where "Gimme Sweetness, Gimme Danger" and "Sing," the last two releases before the utter left turn of "Tigers on Fire," left off, exploring themes of friendship, community and love, but from the reality-changing perspective of time — maturity being the collapse of irrational, youthful certainty and the "knowledge" that everything that was once so obvious is, well, murkier, that memory turns out to be tricky and life multisided. The album opens with an establishing shot, of sorts: The dirty, old town is gone, Karpified, yuppified, all but unrecognizable —  an emotional ghost town. The question posed in the song —  "Can you ever love a ghost, keep what you cannot hold?” — becomes the core of the album as memories are re-examined and life, ultimately, is reinterpreted.

The emotional core of the album comes early on, as the string quartet kicks in two insanely sad waltzes that force listeners to either choke back emotions or cry like little girls:  "Gentle Gentle" and "Memory," whose opening riff, intentionally or not, recalls "Are the Stars Out Tonight," a decade-old tune from Hamlet Idiot, Metrano's first band, and another song that references the night. But, stylistically, the album refuses to sit still, including a new take on Unbunny's "Pink Lemonade,” a ballad from Unbunny alum Guy Capecelatro III  that falls somewhere between Dylan and Waits and a short, hypnotic, proto-psychedelia instrumental. How this ties into the night theme is anyone's guess. The album closes with the joyous, emotionally satisfying "Purr," with its Floyd-like shimmer of voice and feedback.

It’s a lovely album: Sweet, sad and beautiful,  a rich, textured, emotionally complex look at a world left behind, a world where certainty becomes clear only in retrospect,  that finds regret, hope and, eventually, understanding. It’s about the night, but, ultimately it's a rejection of darkness.

JUST THE FACTS: Tiger Saw’s new album “Nightingales” purchased at shows or as a digital download at http://burstandbloom.bandcamp.com/album/nightingales. The band’s next local show will be  at the Burst & Bloom Festival, which begins at 7 p.m. Dec. 21 at Buoy Gallery, 2 Government St., Kittery Maine. Also performing will be Guy Capecelatro, Hellow Shark, Moons of Jupiter and Ruin/Renewal.

JUST THE FOLKS: Performing on “Nightingales” is Guy Capecelatro III (Unbunny),  guitar, bass, toy piano, voice; Emily Forsythe (St. Claire), voice; Glenn Forsythe (St. Claire, voice; Lillian Harris, violin; Wesley Allen Hartley (Dead End Armory, voice; Christopher Holt, bass, guitar, piano, voice; Clara Kebabian (Broken River Prophet), violin; Dylan Metrano,  guitar, voice; Evan Orfanos, drums; Emily Hope Price (Pearl and the Beard), cello; Jerusha Robinson (South China), cello; Helena Sundin (Cake on Cake),voice; and Morgan Eve Swain (Brown Bird), viola

1. The Night is Unchanged
2. Memory
3. Gentle, Gentle
4. Night, pt 1. (Trembling Hearts)
5. Pink Lemonade [Unbunny cover]
6. We’ll Always Have the Night
7. Japan
8. Murakami Dream
9. Night, pt 2. (Helena’s Song)
10. Purrr

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