Review Summary: This Town Needs Desensitization
Whether intentional or not, there is certainly some rhetorical pertinence to Oxford math-rockers TTNG naming their second full-length LP after the Mayan long count. Just as the twelfth baktun segued into the thirteenth on the 21st of December, 2012, This Town Needs Guns opted to begin the new year with a name change (which as you have probably come to the realization is merely the acronym of their incumbent moniker) and a brand new release with a brand new vocalist. In further parallelism, 188.8.131.52.0 is not a drastic departure nor a sweeping statement (in the generalized sense; fret-wizard Tim Collis may have a different interpretation in mind) in their discography. If anything, 184.108.40.206.0 is the band's most comfortable and restrained release yet, which is remarkable considering the fact that the band has had a proverbial revolving door of members.
While the brothers Collis' rhythmic wizardry is as impressively technical and frenetic as it ever has been, 220.127.116.11.0 as a cumulative work is contrarily placid, and while artistic maturity, complacency, or the archetypal experience that comes with years of building art together may be the cause of this, I can't help but hypothesize that new addition Henry Tremain had an inadvertent influence of the album's inoffensive aesthetic. Compared to previous vocalist Stu Smith's emotive and obstreperous delivery, Tremain's vocals are much more controlled, if a bit tinny. It's a bit of a haphazard analogy, but if Stu were Guy Picciotto, Tremain would be Mike Kinsella: he certainly has an interesting and accessible timbre to his voice, but he isn't particularly dynamic or exciting as a vocalist; there isn't any material on 18.104.22.168.0 with as nearly an anthemic hook as a song like "26 is Dancier than 4", for example. Whether it was intentional or not, Tremain's vocals don't enhance the music so much as phase in and out of it as a fourth and slightly less prevalent instrument. They aren't so much a flaw as they are simply and just "present" in the mix.
The rhythm section is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum on a technical level. The tapping on the album's last actual cut, "+3 Awesomeness Repels Water" could only have been conceived by a mad, morse-enthused scientist, and the drum fills on "Triptych" are similarly creative and surprisingly self-contained despite their spasticity. If nothing else, 22.214.171.124.0 is certainly worth a listen to marvel at TTNG's musical proficiency, which is incredibly adept and an excellent example of controlled and tasteful finesse
Along with its aesthetic placidity, 126.96.36.199.0 suffers slightly from a lack of diversity amongst the songs collectively. While the musicianship itself is quite nuanced on every track, the songs themselves don't vary much in terms of dynamics or mood. TTNG do try to insert some variety through the implementation of four brief instrumental tracks, but outside of the bass and drum driven "In the Branches of Yggdrasil" (which is too short to be truly enthralling anyway), they come off as run-time fodder as opposed to authentic segues
The only song that changes TTNG's songwriting palette up a bit is the oneiric "2 Birds, 1 Stone, and an Empty Stomach", which is a gorgeous and dreary acoustic piece complemented with some light piano. And yet, despite its slight deviation, it suffers from the length issues the segue tracks have and spends roughly half of its four-minute run time fading out. I can't help but think that this track, along with the segues would have benefitted by a more thorough fleshing-out of the ideas TTNG present.
To revisit a term I've used a number of times previously in this review, "placid" is undoubtedly the most fitting word I can use to describe TTNG's second full-length release. 188.8.131.52.0 is an incredibly pleasing album to listen to on the strength of the band's instrumental chops alone, with bookends "Cat Fantastic" and "+3 Awesomeness Repels Water" being main highlights. However, it ultimately doesn't become much more than a pleasant and, to be colloquial, "chill" listen. 184.108.40.206.0 has immense replay value because of these traits, but it's not going to be the album that defines TTNG's musical career.