Review Summary: Loud and brash, this is the deliberateness of a band that understands that construction is as much about the common as it is the odd.
It has taken Three Trapped Tigers five years to release Silent Earthling, and the instrumental trio have not skimped on providing us with something truly lively and exceptionally meticulous. The album opens with its title track, a sprawling series of movements that all at once feel sporadic and spacious, tense and exciting. On the drums Adam Betts begins the track with an intense polyrhythm, creating the feeling of a space expanding and contracting. When the synths and guitars latch onto the beat, they begin the slow crescendo that we have grown accustomed to with grand introductions to albums. Yet, all at once this common trope is shot as the band asserts their ability to flow between complex patterns and beautiful arrangements almost at will, the movements themselves dilating, seamlessly flowing in and out of varied complexities. Unexpected groove sections come in with choppy, grindy synths, guitars with octavers and synthesizer modulators beam and warp, all the while the drums changing and changing, crushing the song into a singular moment of tension, of hectic and frantic perplexity…
Only to be released into a warm wave of synth sounds, angular melodies, and then the euphoria of the song’s finishing hugeness. The album continues much in this way, pressuring the listener into a veritable corner, only to be able to cut them out with an adept, calculated burst of liveliness. Three Trapped Tigers, at every turn, wants the listener to feel like they’ve heard it before, they’ve caught onto something trivial, they've sensed something unexceptional. They want the listener to think they’ve pulled the curtain so that they can, whenever possible, keep the listener surprised, engaged, in conversation. This is the deliberateness of a band that understands that construction is as much about the common as it is the odd. The production shines in this regard, giving each instrument the grace to at once be novel in their execution and seamless in the band’s mix, to ebb and flow just enough to illuminate the truly blissful parts of their instrumentation: the drums compressing when they’re being hit just hard enough, the pristine delicateness of the ambient guitar, the clarity of the grinding octaver.
At this point it would be an injustice to not discuss Adam Betts, whose drumming is not only inventively frantic, but the key piece in moving the band out of the proverbial holes that they willingly dig themselves into. On tracks like “Silent Earthling,” “Kraken,” and “Rainbow Road,” Betts glows with the franticness of a more constructed Giraffes" Giraffes!, a smoother Don Caballero. The album only lulls when Betts takes a backseat to the creation of ambience, but even so you can sense him waiting, counting down the moments to when he will burst back into the mix with his blend of freneticism and calamity. While his drumming is clearly the backbone of the song construction, the synths and guitars are not without their shining moments. Even at their most choppy, their most grating and noisy, the synths and guitars have a strange warmth, an inviting methodology of creating the very space they warp, creating claustrophobia and tension only to be able to relieve you of it. On “Engrams” and “Blimp,” we see Matt Calvert’s guitar become a focal point, offering to the album a unique glassiness and elegance with its bending and warping, chopping and delaying, as Calvert allows it to, in a bout of beautiful incompleteness, stretch toward the musical duty of the synthesizer.
“Tekkers” is the band’s way of showcasing their sheer understanding of time and musicality, each measure of the keyboard’s refrain being bolstered by changing accented patterns. Its relative calmness finds its opposite in "Rainbow Road," a monolithic track that constantly feels like it's going to fall apart, burst at the seams, but never does. Three Trapped Tigers is keenly aware of just how long they can hold you underwater, pulling you out right before you lose consciousness. It's elating to be pushed and pulled so adeptly, to nearly always go where they want to go, to always be in a cycle of tension and release.
Glowing recommendation aside, the album is not without its faults. In some instances, songs end abruptly, undeservedly, jarring the listener out of the cacophony with what feels like an incomplete idea. And still, at times Three Trapped Tigers fall very keenly into the crevasse of typical ambient and electronic music. “Hemisphere” is genuinely forgettable, a way station to the otherwise frantically beautiful “Rainbow Road” which plays like a Tera Melos b-side thrown in a blender with Adebisi Shank. While I admit that it is difficult to walk this line dutifully without falling into the street every now and then, they demonstrate countless times that they can refuse to push songs down conventional paths. To come across underwhelming moments of typicality like that of in “Tekkers,” “Hemisphere,” and “Strebek” -- even if only for 45 seconds -- s slightly disappointing. However, small missteps aside, Silent Earthling is perhaps the first truly frantic, gripping, magnetic record of the year. And while Three Trapped Tigers are no strangers to creating their particular blend of noise -- littered with grindy and beautiful synths in constant interplay, tasteful tempo and time changes, and massive walls of sound -- they certainly have outdone themselves with this one.