It’s crazy to think that Tigers Jaw has been a band for 12 years already and have been in some semblance of the public eye (at least the portion of the public eye that pays attention to scrappy emo/indie bands) since their self-titled sophomore full-length was released in 2008. But the past four years have been full of turmoil for the Scranton, Pennsylvania-based group: In March 2013, three-fifths of the band, including vocalist/guitarist and main songwriter Adam McIlwee, quit, and the remaining members—guitarist/vocalist Ben Walsh and keyboardist/vocalist Brianna Collins—limped through a previously scheduled summer tour with fill-in musicians under the public assumption that this was the end of Tigers Jaw.
Then, suddenly, the band announced it was going to release a new album, Charmer, in 2014, recorded with all the members who left the band the previous year, but that the band would continue to officially exist as a duo between Walsh and Collins. Confused yet? Charmer scored the band their most positive press and most high-profile tours to date, but it also marked the official end of the version of Tigers Jaw all their fans fell in love with from the beginning.
Now, Collins and Walsh have taken a huge step very few of their peers have been able to: They’ve signed with a major label. Tigers Jaw’s new album, spin (lowercase “s” and all), is the first release on Black Cement, a new imprint label through Atlantic Records run by Will Yip, the same man who produced Charmer (and sat behind the boards for this one, as well). Sonically, spin is practically a twin of Charmer, loaded with jangly guitar tones and single-note organ licks piercing through the mix. But when it comes to songwriting, spin falters.
Despite having been officially functioning as a duo for four years, spin is Walsh and Collins’ first attempt at writing and performing all songs themselves—no former band members joined them in the studio this time. Charmer benefitted greatly from the addition of McIlwee’s voice (both vocally and songwriting-wise), whereas spin more often than not gets stuck in the mud with repetitive, mid-tempo songs like “Blurry Vision” and “Same Stone.” It’s an album that, at 12 songs and 43 minutes, sometimes feels twice as long.
However, when Collins and Walsh strike gold, they produce some of the best hooks in Tigers Jaw’s career: the chorus of “June” contains delightfully wispy harmonies, “Brass Ring” features Collins’ best lead vocals on the entire album and the album-closing “Window” is hypnotic in its repeated guitar line, sustained keyboard tone and Walsh’s insistent vocal hook, “These days it’s hard not to feel alone/There is a dull glow coming through your window.”
A lot of what made early Tigers Jaw records like Two Worlds or the essential Spirit Desire EP feel compelling was the feeling that the songs could spin into one of a hundred different directions at any minute, whether they actually did or not. That push-and-pull defined Tigers Jaw for so many years, making songs crackle with electricity. Now, all rough edges have been endlessly smoothed out, resulting in an album that will likely serve best as background music in dorm rooms this fall in between the latest records from Turnover and Balance And Composure. spin is enjoyable, but inessential.