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Listen to Tigers on Trains and never be bored again

| Wednesday, October 8, 2014

web_tigers on trains_10-9-2014Samantha Coughlin

I can see them now.  Crayon-drawn spindly tigers casually perched atop crayon cabooses and think nothing of it. Trains, tigers, ice cream, Christmas, grandma — objects of overwhelming childhood joy all met in my mind and spilled sloppily onto paper — and my t-shirt. I would never wear a bib. What my small hands and circumstance created was sacred because they were unrestrained. Everything was so effortlessly borne that even the sloppiest, ugliest creation glowed in the eyes of my parents and teachers.

It’s the exact sort of sentiment that comes to mind when Tigers on Trains’ front man, Mason Maggio, repeats, “never get bored!” on the group’s newest record, “Antarctica in Color.” The wish to never be bored is something wholly youthful, both nostalgic and forward thinking. That’s essentially what “Antarctica in Color”is: a record entrenched in established indie-folk sounds and sentiments, yet incredibly fresh and inventive in execution. Exquisite arrangements, melodies and lyrics push the record above its many competitors. Quality alone, not some innovation or gimmick, makes “Antarctica in Color” an incredibly strong competitor in the race for the best album of 2014.

Though it’s essentially a waste of your time to read the rest of the review ­­­— just go listen to this record instead — I guess I’ll go on to inadequately capture some of the greatness that Tigers on Trains has to offer. Mr. Maggio, the mastermind behind this particular Tiger on Trains record because his partner in crime, Christian van Deurs, is absent this time around, is a modern day romantic philosopher.

“Broken Darts” peers into the soul of a fair-weather personality, content to shine in any category that presents an easy opportunity.

“Plumes” illustrates a lover’s desire to commit to find the dream life he’s always imagined, even if it means having a closed mind that won’t change to see a situation for the better. At the last minute, he says, “I don’t want your love just yet,” and we’re left wondering whether he wants to earn that love or if he isn’t ready to follow through on his wishes.

“But It’s Hard To” seeks out the source of unease in a relationship, asking, “Did you hide or did I hide?” before repeatedly taking and shaking the blame.

“Antarctica in Color,” like its very name suggests, deftly investigates a slew of everyday contradictions that cause so much of the emotional hardship in our relationships with others.

The complex lyrical ideas presented, work incredibly well in the context of Tigers on Trains’ simultaneously simple and engaging arrangements. There aren’t any surprises on the record as far as song structures or chord progressions go, and riffs are subtle when they are present. Fingerpicked guitar and soft driving beats form lush, warm backdrops for Maggio’s effortless vocal melodies. However, the vocal hooks and lovely guitar patterns are more than enough to carry each song. Exquisite mixing and production allows each instrument to perfectly inhabit its necessary space, meaning that every instrument shines in every song, no matter how simple its particular part.

Tigers on Trains have created an extremely accessible, stripped-down indie folk record that makes the most of its few wonderful ingredients with “Antarctica in Color.” Repeated listens reveal increasingly lovely and varied bass and guitar patterns that ensure the thoughtful lyrics and memorable vocal melodies fill an eternal space in your head.

It’s quite amazing that “Antarctica in Color” was released the same week as Flying Lotus’s brilliantly complex “You’re Dead,” as the two are both masterpieces with opposing strengths. A truly masterful, emotionally gripping indie-folk record, “Antarctica in Color” is another must-hear record from a ridiculously underexposed artist. If you’re still reading, you’ve wasted enough time — go listen to the album now. If you give it the number of listens it deserves, you may never be bored again.

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