Reviewed by Brett Thorne.
Miniature Tiger‘s latest album has a heavy world music influence and even heavier pop hooks. The song titles of the entire last half of the album sound like an inventory of props for the newest Indiana Jones flick (things that are missing: hat, whip, horrendously CGI-ed aliens and George Lucas laughing at all of us). “Bullfighter Jacket,” “Egyptian Robe” and “Tropical Birds” are just a few of the selections from the latter half of the album and make for some of the most interesting and entertaining music on Fortress.
“Mansions of Misery,” the album’s kick-off, opens with what could be the bells of a vendor walking the streets of Dehli, hawking their goods, before Charlie Brand croons “Thinking about throwing away the keeeeeey” and the band dives headfirst into a sunny pop number filled with creepy background noise, music swells and Brand’s light, airy vocals. This juxtaposition creates a cool push and pull within the song. It sounds like the soundtrack to one of the neighborhood kids’ adventures after he gets dared to touch the front door of the “haunted house” down the street. But instead of weeds and and peeling paint, there are sunflowers in the front yard and fresh paint on the house’s exterior.
The driving rhythm of “Rock N Roll Mountain Troll” pushes the song forward, and contrary to what the lamest song title since Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater” would have you think, this is one of the strongest tracks on the album. One listen, and Brand’s melody will be lodged in your head .
He goes back and forth between the swagger of the The Morning Bender‘s Chris Chu (who produced the album), the introspective nature of Grizzly Bear‘s Chris Taylor (who produced the Morning Benders’ latest), the boyishness of Portugal. the Man‘s John Gourley (who hasn’t produced much but is awesome) and the mournful harmonizing effect often utilized by indie (and Wes Anderson) darling Jason Schwartzmann on his project Coconut Records.
“Bullfighter Jacket” is an interesting listen with a chant of “Ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya” that would not sound out of place in one of the Spanish plazas where Spaniards watched their team take home the World Cup. Brand’s vocals come in and remind the listener that “Yes, in fact, you are still listening to a bunch of guys from Arizona.” Brand sings about his courtship of a woman he knows is dangerous and in this case he is the bull and she is the fighter, taunting him, daring him to make a move on her. Although he knows he will end up as another prize on her wall, he sounds like he is having a good time and we’re fortunate enough that he has invited us along for the ride.
Brand is more direct on the next track, “Egyptian Robe,” choosing to drop the metaphors and wonder “We were barely clothed in Egyptian robes. Is it love? Or just a screw?” The song is much more laid-back than it’s predecessor and makes for an entertaining (if slightly less memorable) listen.
The album closes with “Coyote Enchantment,” an acid trip of a song that features a Mary Timony impersonator and a bunch of laser-blast synth sounds. The song ends in a swell of noise that tapers off to reveal simple percussion and a guitar riff that are cut off suddenly. The final sound of the album, a hit to the tom, sounds like the band closing the door to the studio and their wild, wacky trip of an album. The track is certainly not the strongest of the album but suffices as a closer to one of the more interesting pop-rock records released on this side of 2010.
Fortress sounds like the product of a bunch of guys who had a lot of time to mess around in the studio and work with instruments that they might never have touched on a tighter schedule. Those looking for the nuance of psychedelic pop bands like Yeasayer should probably stick to their worn-out copy of Odd Blood. Tracks like “Japanese Woman Living in My Closet” and “Dark Tiger” come off as filler and offer nothing in the way of memorable moments which the rest of Fortress delivers with such gusto. The album certainly has its rough spots and Fortress doesn’t really deliver anything groundbreaking, but with hooks this tasty, novelty is not necessarily a must.