Review Summary: As Tall As Lions hit their stride with a collection of soulful and impassioned alt-rock that finds them putting subtlety before extravagance.
It’s been two years in the making, but for the blues drenched alt-rock outfit As Tall As Lions, their third and long awaited LP, You Can’t Take It With You,
is the one that almost got away. After trudging their way though a myriad of problems and near-break ups, three producers and eleven soulfully impassioned songs later, it may have all been worth it. After all, with an album as intricately textured and beautifully composed as this, the Lions have finally managed to create what just might be the best damn thing they’ve ever done. Whereas much of their previous work showcased a band flexing the muscles of their own songwriting prowess, it was a case of too much, too soon, with the band diving headfirst into every (usually great) idea and splashing around with a sense of wonderment that reflected the band’s youthful gaze towards making music. Older fans looking out for a repeat of the indulgence of songs like the ever popular “Love Love Love (Love Love)” (which breathed
excess from within its very name) and “Stab City” are unlikely to find them here. Not that it’s too much of a problem of course, because for the first time it’s possible to hear where the Lions have held back, marking out subtle spaces with a thoroughly organic approach that has finally allowed atmosphere and attitude to co-exist in a wonderful display of orchestration.
It’s a newfound confidence that's clearly evident from the get go, with opener “Circles” being perhaps the best thing to ever happen to the Lions – or the worst, depending on who you ask; says guitarist Saen Fitzgerald about the captivating percussion on the track: “Our hands were nearly bleeding at one point… I wasn’t able to close them for the next day and a half.” And in keeping with the sweat and tears, “Circles” comes off as unquestionably alive
, living and breathing though its warm progression of widely spaced melody, hinting at influences real or imagined from indie stalwarts like Broken Social Scene. You Can’t Take It With You
also finds the band at its most artsy, having taken chopsticks to Coke bottles in the jazz-lounge optimism of “The Narrows” and bleating into $10 megaphones on the bluesy bar room mood setter of “We’s Been Waiting”, having tweaked and tinkled with sounds to verge on an experimentalism as yet unseen by the band. Nevertheless it’s a record that remains thoroughly imbued with the Lions’ trademark pop sensibility, never coming off as challenging or hard to listen to, but simply charming in its affectionate, groove ridden approach.
Remaining at centre stage though, still lie the powerful croons of vocalist Dan Nigro, with his dynamic blues marked voice holding it all together as he weaves his way through the record’s litany of tunes. Not to be outdone however, You Can’t Take It With You
features a band as equally meticulous, with nearly every sound carving its own cozy corner within their respective songs, laid down piece by piece and articulated with brilliant clarity. Take for example the album’s title track, which opens with a low hum of a Mediterranean melody line, before working its way into a slow beat reminiscent of some of trip hop’s more poppy moments, belonging to a groove even Tricky would be proud of, if y’know, he wrote alt-rock tunes. In the hands of anyone else, it’s a subtlety that might have been lost, faded away to become some ever abused intro ambiance to suggest the band’s atmospheric wrangling – instead, it’s used here less as a device than a integral part of the song, neither overpowering nor under developed. It’s a slight illustration of course, but its one among a myriad of little things, a keenly developed eye to detail that makes You Can’t Take It With You
such a satisfying listen.
Certainly, there are moments of reservation too, such as the slow burning “Duermete” or lowly lit lullaby in reverse “Sleepyhead”, both of which bring the record to a screeching halt in order to let the Lions explore less familiar instances of ambience, with Nigro given the welcome opportunity to touch on the edges of his entrancing high/low dynamic. While both songs don’t do much to keep momentum, it almost seems like a fair trade off given the sheer energy and exuberance of songs like “In Case Of Rapture” and “The Narrows”, all of which, taken together showcase a band who’ve nailed their sound down to a tee – which is exactly the thing; You Can’t Take It With You
sounds like a proper album
par excellence, gelling together with a cohesiveness so many strive for but never really hit. Given the turbulent nature of the record’s production this isn’t just surprising, but a sheer delight. Not that the band ever needed to be told this: “‘You know what? We went through all that shit
, and I'm so glad we did because it gave the album grit and tension and character. It shaped it into something special.” Definitely.