Review Summary: Indie-folk at its finest. Grandfather is a timeless creation that captures both the ear and the imagination.
Although they are both rather anonymous compared to the indie and alternative rock behemoths of the world, Tigers on Trains and The Republic of Wolves have both managed to make footprints in their respective genres. While both bands are headed by the same singers/songwriters, Christian Van Deurs and Mason Maggio, they have very different styles. The latter is more rock influenced, with Jesse Lacey influenced lyrics, croons, and screams. On the other hand, Tigers on Trains have a distinct folk
sound, one that best figures into the indie scene. Although both bands are alluring in their own ways, Tigers on Trains proves to be the brighter shining of the two gems with their debut Grandfather
truly masters the art of the album atmosphere
. At times, the listener will feel like he/she is wandering an off-the-road path in a foggy eighteenth century forest. But at the same time, the album has all the comfort and coziness of a cold winter night spent by the fireplace. In other words, Grandfather
is foreign enough to remove you from your current state of mind, yet familiar enough that it doesn’t make you work in order to understand it. One of the most beautiful aspects of the entire album is its ability to use acutely depressing themes such as existential crises and death to concoct an aura that is, ironically, so vividly uplifting. From the opening minute of “The Grammarian”, Tigers on Trains has already proven the advanced nature of their songwriting and lyrical aptitude. To a background of organs and acoustic picking, Mason Maggio beckons the listener to join him in a fantasy world, “Open all your doors and windows, let the light bleed in your house…Take a long ride to Chicago…Throw my soul into the great lake, make a lighter trip back home.” From there, every song flows together like scenes from a movie. Although every single track is essential, key highlights include the unparallelled acoustical prowess of “The Silk Road” and the slightly Paul Simon influenced “Muhammad”, which features a perfect blend of upbeat drumming, chime-like guitar play, and dissonant vocal melodies. With a dream-like atmosphere and no shortage of ideas on the musical frontier, Grandfather
never presents a dull or rehashed moment.
As the album progresses, it becomes clear that innovation is the wheel that keeps Grandfather
moving along at such an admirable pace. The lyrics are exquisitely written, sure, but Tigers on Trains did not invent the topics of existentialism (“A Year In The Garden Shed”), exotic journies (“The Silk Road”), and the devil (nearly every song). The good thing is that Tigers on Trains realizes this as well. Instead of being content to lay these themes out on the table in ordinary fashion, they seem to find limitless ways to make them new again. The band frequently uses religion as a means of expressing angst, distrust, or unfulfillment. For instance, the song “Sea Weed” states, “And I realized the Lord's watch, it runs a bit slow…He answers each prayer a century too late, yeah.” Also, “Muhammad” seems to be an attack on those who hide behind religion as a mask for starting wars, with the telling line, “I see eleven year olds waiving their guns, fighting wars their fathers started…I see twenty years inside of this trench, passing time and dodging bullets.” At times the band also makes allusions to the four horsemen, heaven, hell, atheism, and Islam. Despite the obvious religious aspects to the lyrics, Tigers on Trains do not seem to be promoting or denouncing any kind of religion. Instead, they are simply using it as a metaphor; as a means of expressing not only interpersonal conflict, but also the universal anxiety/paranoia characteristic in today’s society. In similar ways, the band incorporates mythology, literature, and more modern day examples (“I see corporations buying our souls putting heaven out of business“) to get their points across. To put it as simply as possible, Tigers on Trains have extremely deep, intelligent lyrics with sophisticated methods of presentation.
For as much as the album succeeds on the basis of lyrical innovation, the instrumental talent on Grandfather
contributes equally (if not more). The album utilizes a limited range of instruments – acoustic guitars, drums, bass, and the occassional organ or synthesizer. At no point does the album climax with an electric guitar solo or a spine-chilling vocal shriek. Grandfather
does not persue intensity in any way resembling that of modern rock or metal trends, which is quite fitting, because this is folk-indie in its purest form. Maggio and Van Deurs let the music sweep over the listener, with layers of vocal harmonies that ascend and descend in tone and in mood, leaving behind a dark but completely relaxing aura. The song structures never repeat or mimick each other, allowing each of the ten songs on the album to feel fresh and totally unique from one another. It is a rarity for any band in any genre to display such advanced songwriting ability, but Tigers on Trains show it gracefully and effortlessly on their debut. The result is an album that is truly an experience
, one that you can really sink your teeth into from both a musical and lyrical perspective.
is one-of-a-kind. It is the type of album that only comes along rarely, and when it does, it demands attention from both your ears and your mind. The flow of the work as a whole is impeccable, and there is emotion present in every guitar note, every drum beat, and every word written. The album is an atmospherical masterpiece that will have you feeling reminiscent, imaginitive, depressed, and hopeful at the same time. It will have you fearing death and loving it or as Tigers on Trains best expresses the sentiment, Death is not a curse, it's the only thing that's keeping us alive