Review Summary: Filled with the sounds of the places we've been
It's been nine years since Tigers on Trains have released new music (save for the 2019 single 'Penmanship'), but who's counting? Oh, right – anyone who's listened to them before, because Tigers on Trains isn't the kind of band you forget once you're even vaguely aware of their existence. The biggest reason for that is 2009's Grandfather
, a modern indie-folk classic that is equal parts dark and lush, while 2012's Foundry
cemented their status as underground folk legends and 2014's Antarctica In Color
saw them branch out sonically while retaining most of their admirable qualities. Even though sibling outfit The Republic of Wolves released an absolutely fantastic LP in 2017's shrine
– and we've been treated to a string of quality solo outings under Mason Maggio's Souveneer moniker – it's still been a long almost-decade for listeners like us who've hoped and wondered when Tigers on Trains would resurface with those timeless-sounding acoustic guitars and their magical, breathtaking harmonies in order to bestow upon us that shiny, highly anticipated new
Well, today is not that day.
But that doesn't mean that Antiquities
– a surprise compilation of b-sides and scattered singles spanning Tigers on Trains' entire career – is any less gorgeous than what we've come to expect from the duo. There are individual moments here that are worth the (either literal or figurative) price of admission, although all twelve songs bring something unique to the table. When singers Mason Maggio and Christian Van Deurs aren't dusting off gems from their Grandfather
/ Antarctica In Color
days, they bring us two entirely new songs to delve into. Antiquities
is a phenomenal career-spanning release that offers tracks left on the cutting floor alongside a glimpse of what present day Tigers on Trains would sound like – and honestly, their scraps are better than a lot of other folk bands' A-list material.
We're given the new songs first, with 'Lowlife' and 'Plane Song' leading the way. 'Lowlife' is an incredibly elegant opener, noticeably featuring Christian Van Deurs' vocals in a prominent way alongside a stunningly melodic acoustic guitar solo. It's a perfect and long-awaited "return to form" for Tigers on Trains, especially when you consider that Antarctica In Color
was essentially a Mason Maggio solo outing. 'Plane Song' is more somber and contemplative, hovering above gently strummed chords while offering up withdrawn and dejected lyrics like "there's only so much tension that my mind can feel" and "is it okay if I just disappear?" Both of these tracks are worthwhile additions to Antiquities
, with melancholy overtones that place them halfway between Souveneer's penchant for self-deprecation and Tigers on Trains' typically uptempo harmonies. The 2019 single 'Penmanship' is next at-bat, and the song's unmistakably dreamy guitars do not disappoint. The overarching sentiment with 'Penmanship' was always that it was gorgeous but a bit safe, and that continues to be the case here as it provides a comfortable buffer between the band's latest material and their reverse-chronological journey into the depths of their past.
There are precious few listeners who will already know 'Scrapwood' and 'Foundations' from 2014's The Living Room Sessions
, but the pair of acoustic stunners return freshly remastered (just like all the older songs here). 'Scrapwood' possesses a self-loathing tone that belies its pristine guitars and beautiful melody, while 'Foundation' boasts an emotive chorus that also serves as the catchiest moment at this particular juncture of Antiquities
. From the same era, we're given a trio of Antarctica In Color
b-sides: 'Careening' is a vulnerable acoustic ballad from Mason Maggio that is beautiful in its own right; Antarctica In Color
's title track flourishes with its lively, propulsive strings; and finally, 'Family of Fears' masterfully contrasts Antarctica In Color
's uplifting vibes by conjuring a bleaker atmosphere, delivered via Maggio's urgently sung/shouted: "there's always something in the darkness." Moments like 'Family of Fears' serve as proof that some of the b-sides and misfits which comprise Antiquities
are actually stronger than their source material.
There's this sense that Antiquities
gathers momentum as it progresses – a notion that could be attributed to Tigers on Trains' earliest material also being their strongest/most celebrated. As we round the corner into Foundry
's and Grandfather
's b-sides, the compilation unquestionably reaches new heights. Even with the simple-but-charming presence of 'Souvenirs' (which was extracted from the Foundry
ends up sounding its most natural and stunning on Grandfather
b-sides 'Underneath The Ivy Fields' and 'You And Your Sainthood'. The truly unrestrained and ever-gorgeous Maggio/Van Deurs harmonies breathe life into the music, and they feel like a reminder of Tigers on Trains' core essence: this Simon & Garfunkel enduring an existential crisis
kind of aura where breathtaking melodies and alluring spiritual narratives effortlessly coexist. 'Underneath The Ivy Fields' is as pristine and pastoral as any of Grandfather
's center cuts, replete with Tigers on Trains' trademark jaw-dropping harmonies and sparkling, intertwined acoustic picking. 'You And Your Sainthood' is rhythmic and bluesy, channeling 'Ship Shape' to some extent only more full-bodied and lush. Both of these tracks qualify as "worth the price of admission" moments if you're a longtime Tigers on Trains fan, because it's as rewarding as it is entirely unexpected to receive more music from such a lighting in a bottle
moment as Grandfather
draws to a close, we're even given a pre-Grandfather
track in 2008's 'Canossa'. Like 'Ivy Fields' and 'Sainthood', it's a song that embodies this band's roots: acoustics that glisten and vocals that glow. The hums that whisk 'Canossa' into the ether make for an ideal ending to a collection of tracks that are essentially ghosts in Tigers on Trains' canon. Antiquities
isn't going to make listeners forget about Grandfather
– after all, there's a reason many of these were b-sides or otherwise unreleased – but the consistent strength of their "scrapped" material speaks volumes about just how skilled this band really is. One can only hope that Antiquities
is the sound of Tigers on Trains shedding their old material to gear up for a beautiful second act rather than a "resume-to-date" to summarize bygone success that's unlikely to return. Tigers on Trains are and always have been one of indie-folk's best-kept secrets, and Antiquities
is a sign of life for fans who've waited almost ten years for...well, that
. Hopefully there's even more to come, but for the time being, Antiquities
is a shimmering bucket of gems well-worth savoring.