Miniature Tigers are no strangers to kitsch; in fact, they’re the kind of band that writes songs about vikings and vampires and films music videos in the mansion from Ghostbusters. Still, there was a certain dreamy quality to their debut EPs that made them seem more naive (think a young Ben Kweller) than camp, and their earnest indie-pop was akin to Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin with better vocals. It was rainy day stuff—mediocre but undeniably pleasant with lyrics so cutesy they almost made you blush. This aesthetic was all but abandoned with the release of 2010’s Fortress, an album that saw Charlie Brand try playing a jack of all sonic trades, abandoning his comfort zone and trying to find any sort of new shtick that would stick.
The good news is that Brand has recovered from his identity crisis, and 2012’s Mia Pharaoh is less of an unfocused mess than its predecessor. He’s even gone beyond the too-safe sound of his earliest works to create something more memorable. The bad news is that he seems focused, at times, on combining the Bee Gees and of Montreal into something that is barely tolerable. Kitsch is taken to a new level with opening track “Sex on the Regular,” which could easily be mistaken for something from Flight of the Conchords. Unfortunately, the cringe-inducing puns and the exhortation to “play [him] like a saxophone” are not jokes. One of the greatest boons to the Tigers’ music was Brand’s voice, but on songs like “Cleopatra” he sings over a chillwave drum programming in a falsetto so grating that it sounds off-key. It’s when he is pulling off his best Kevin Barnes impersonation on songs like “Easy as All That,” “Flower” and “Boomerang” that Mia Pharaoh becomes most listenable.
Still, even Brand’s strongest imitations fail to live up to Barnes’ hyper-literary lyrical stylings or his fantastical imagery. There’s not really much to grab onto in songs like “Ugly Needs” in which he sings, “trust me, if I could control it, it’d be under control,” or in “Easy as All That” with lines like, “so high, you’re up in the sky.” Mia Pharaoh is rife with either these lazy truisms or the kind of flat metaphor employed in a song like “Female Doctor.” When Miniature Tigers were dubbed one of the best MySpace bands in 2008, it was almost like a prophetic backhanded insult calling them the best of the worst. Still, though, the reverse could be true, and Mia Pharaoh could be described as the worst of the best: An unglamorous of Montreal spouting five-cent words, synth-pop songs that—with the exception of “Boomerang”—can hardly be considered danceable, tracks that are accidentally hilarious, melodies that fly so low to the ground that they are instantly forgettable. Either way, it might be best to avoid Charlie’s particular brand of pop this go-around and wait for him to try his hand at something new.