Fond of Tigers:
Continent & Western
Fond of Tigers branches out into new and sometimes noisier territories on its third album Continent & Western, the septet at times sounding closer in spirit to an avant, take-no-prisoners outfit like Naked City than a standard neo-jazz collective. Like fellow Drip Audio band Inhabitants (interestingly, trumpeter JP Carter and drummer Skye Brooks play in both bands), Fond of Tigers appears hard-wired to be its own unique and challenging self rather than a contrivance more palatable to the masses. That the band is stretching into new directions is signified by the guest list alone, which finds both Constellation Records' Sandro Perri bringing a vocal-pop dimension to “Vitamin Meathawk” and Swedish experimenter Mats Gustafsson contributing baritone sax and electronics to the predictably intense “Grandad.” That Continent & Western manages to fit song structures and experimental improv into its forty-six minutes and still sound like the work of one band says something about its range.
A stabbing guitar line gives “Soheb” a math-rock feel at the outset before the collective enters like some shambolic version of Henry Threadgill's Very Very Circus. Fond of Tigers never sounds more dense than it does on this track, with the double-drummer attack of Dan Gaucher and Brooks a volcanic backdrop for bandleader Stephen Lyons' guitar skronk and the sing-song theme voiced by JP Carter's trumpet and Jesse Zubot's violin. That heavy attack carries over into the title track but the weather quickly changes a half-minute in when the clouds part and a brighter melodic passage takes over. The ten-minute piece includes enough guitar twang to justify its title but is also episodic enough to resist reductive pigeonholing; there are moments of collective white heat as well as delicate passages where instruments pair up into front-line units. What begins as an elegant piano setting in “Sept 16th, 2005” rapidly turns into a King Crimson-oid exercise in prog-like intricacy with the instruments navigating unconventional time signatures with ease. Add Gustafsson's saxophone and electronics wail to Fond of Tigers' funereal lurch and what results is nine scalding minutes called “Grandad.”
The tracks featuring vocals find the band dialing down the intensity a tad. Perri's vocal brings a winsome feel to the relatively tamed “Vitamin Meathawk,” where the band provides a simpatico counterpoint to the singer's delivery and shows it's perfectly capable of adhering to a through-composed song structure when the need arises. A percussive mood-piece of little consequence (“Misc. Romance”) precedes the quietly intoxicating album closer “Upheaval,” whose Eastern-styled, chant-like melodies suit Lyons' voice perfectly. In some ways, Continent & Western is a grab bag of a release, with each track pursuing a slightly different tack than the one before. If that makes the album feel less coherent on identity grounds than it might, the pleasures that the varied programme brings make up for it. But regardless of whether the material in question is a vocal-based song or an uproarious throwdown, the band's uncompromising identity remains intact.