Review Summary: Just another day at the office for the best indie-folk band around.
If you’re a folk enthusiast who still
hasn’t listened to Tigers on Trains, you’re just cruelly depriving yourself. One could easily argue that Grandfather
have elevated them amongst the genre’s elite, and anyone who has had the pleasure of hearing those albums probably only needs a review of Antarctica In Color
as a reminder to go purchase it. Mason Maggio and Christian Van Deurs are naturally gifted indie-folk musicians, and once you’ve heard one of their works, there’s very little convincing that’s necessary to keep them on your radar. In pairing stunning vocal harmonies with poetically existential lyrics, they’ve created possibly the
definitive indie-folk experience over the course of their eight year existence. Antarctica In Color
is the band’s third studio album in an already revered discography and, quite impressively, it manages to expand their sound even more.
was a timeless classic and Foundry
proved that it wasn’t a fluke, then Antarctica In Color
is the album that experiments with the proven approach. While Tigers on Trains remain loyal to their unique brand of Paul Simon folk meets Jesse Lacey alt-rock, there’s definitely a more fully-realized and confident approach here. Whereas their first two records remained firmly planted in complex acoustic picking and soaring vocal harmonies, Antarctica In Color
lives up to its name by adding new splashes of creativity to a once plain white canvas. It’s actually not apparent until about thirty seconds into ‘Attention!’, but when that track comes to life in a frenzy of fast-paced drumming and wailing electric guitars, the evolution that has slowly been occurring right under our noses suddenly becomes abundantly clear. There’s something tremendously satisfying about the way that it brings together all of Tigers on Trains’ best aspects and presents them in a totally new light – in a sense, making it a microcosm of the album as a whole. Tigers on Trains have filled Antarctica In Color
to the brim with energy – something that wasn’t necessarily a strong suit on past endeavors – without sacrificing very many of the traits that have gotten them to this point. It’s clear that this is a band continuing to grow within itself, and they show no indications of weakening their foundation in the process.
Their expansion isn’t limited to more energetic percussion and guitars, however. ‘Plumes’ shows that even a band like Tigers on Trains isn’t immune to the intrigue of electronic dabbling, employing a subtle backbeat that lends the album a much needed dose of ambiance. Moderation is key here – Maggio and Van Deurs know exactly where to draw the line, and they only experiment in ways that work for their sound
. This strength presents itself once again on the cheerful ‘Staircase’, a mid-tempo track that bounces atop uplifting strings and keyboards. Once again it’s nothing groundbreaking, just Tigers on Trains slowly introducing new elements to their sound while remaining true to their roots. One of Antarctica In Color
’s greatest strengths is this sense calculated risk – minor progressions that occur throughout the experience and make it their most interesting record to date.
One modification that might be viewed by longtime fans as a misstep is the seemingly reduced vocal role of Christian Van Deurs. On Grandfather
, so much of the atmosphere was made up of the beautiful harmonizing between Maggio and Van Deurs. Here, it seems he has taken a backseat to Maggio which, with all due respect to him as a top-notch vocalist, directly affects the heights to which the choruses can ascend to. In turn, Antarctica In Color
doesn’t have the hooks that Grandfather
proudly put on display routinely. The album proves to be memorable in plenty of other ways, but those who are looking for something as catchy as ‘Muhammad’ won’t find it here.
If there’s one thing that certainly hasn’t changed, it is the quality of Mason Maggio’s songwriting and lyricism. Fans of Grandfather
will find plenty to like here, as Antarctica In Color
is ripe with metaphors, literary references, religious philosophizing, and insights about relationships. Even though these topics have been covered time and time again by a wide range of artists, it’s almost as if Maggio makes it his personal mission to obliterate the presence of clichés. Take ‘Kicked Out Of The Chain Gang’ for instance, in which he laments, “forty days of fasting couldn’t save my soul” and “I got kicked out of the parish for swearing at God.” In the bluesy folk closer, ‘Volunteer’, he expresses abandonment and heartbreak in a whole new light: “It’s a shame I showed myself…but you only showed yourself out / Eventually doesn’t mean much, but mine is surrounded by your love...so if you grow towards someone else well that would eventually break my heart.” It would be easy to gush on for pages about the quality of the lyrics on Antarctica In Color
, but honestly it’s something better heard than read.
Tigers on Trains’ career thus far has been an exhibition of incredible talent and consistent execution. As relatively unknown as they remain, Maggio and Van Deurs continue to put out one top-notch album after another – a trend that isn’t likely to conclude any time soon. Antarctica In Color
tips its hand towards more of a folk-rock approach in the future, which is an exciting prospect when you consider that their alter-ego, The Republic of Wolves, has also been very successful in its own right. No matter what direction they decide to follow, though, it’s a safe bet that they will pour their heart and soul into it – just as they do everything. When musicians this talented care this much about their work, good things tend to happen. That’s why it’s no surprise that Tigers on Trains’ whole discography – Antarctica In Color
included – is so damn incredible.