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‘Silent Earthling’ takes fans by surprise

| Monday, April 11, 2016

'SilentEarthling'_WebEric Richelsen | The Observer

Prayer works, ladies and gentlemen. There is no other explanation for the spontaneous re-emergence of the experimental math-rock outfit Three Trapped Tigers after a disconsolate five years of waiting. Yet there I was, staring at the announcement on my computer screen in awe, long since I had given up hope on the possibility of a follow-up to “Route One or Die,” their 2011 debut. Yet there it was: a new LP, “Silent Earthling,” to be released in April. My prayers, answered.

In all seriousness, I personally owe to “Route One or Die” much of what I understand about the experimental rock vanguard today, of its potential. It is a remarkable debut that showcases the London-based Three Trapped Tigers as a band fully embracing of the power electronics that their rock contemporaries were aversively shirking, a counterpoint to the retro sensibilities of early 2010s indie headliners The Black Keys and Vampire Weekend at a time when electronics and acoustics were being branded in the mainstream as mutually exclusive.

But after five years of waiting, “Route One or Die” was crystallizing in my mind as the “veni, vidi, vici” of experimental math-rock, as an album so self-contained that a follow-up would only be redundant. Perhaps it is better this way, I told myself.

I was wholly incorrect, as it would turn out. Three Trapped Tigers’ sophomore effort is anything but redundant; it is an altogether new triumph of its kind, additional evidence of the band’s inimitable prowess.

Yet while I wholly recommend their follow-up, it is certainly not for the faint of heart. On “Silent Earthling,” the band’s monolithic guitars make a reappearance, sharpened more than ever by a freezing array of skirmishing synthesizers. Prepare to hear more erratic time signatures and epileptic riffs, not to mention some of the best drumming this side of the prime meridian. But try not to anticipate the same moody subtleties of “Route One or Die,” or you will be swept away by a sonic storm; “Silent Earthling” is significantly more aggressive than its predecessor in its overall tone, more voluminous and decidedly denser.

But while the record is not as patient in its development as its predecessor was, it is by no means hasty or clumsy. The self-titled opener establishes this from the start, featuring some of the most marked stylistic shifts on the album when synthesizers take center stage and the track skids into dance-music song structures; while the track is rough around the edges, I interpret the coarseness as a positive sign that the trio is stepping outside of its comfort zone, in a good way.

Other tracks, like “Strebek” and “Blimp,” take a somewhat more traditional approach, but are similarly fueled by further intensity. So while the track “Kraken” is as hectic as anything the band has ever produced, here the compounded concatenation of increasingly haunting synth pads and the roar of a massive lead guitar assert themselves on one of the album’s best cuts.

The back half of “Silent Earthling” temper the record’s fierce momentum. “Engrams” evolves from a moody electronic piece into a storm of colliding instrumentation, while “Tekkers” and “Hemisphere” have the band experimenting with rhythm, together featuring some of the album’s most elastic percussive arrangements, unlike anything seen on “Route One or Die.”

The last two tracks here prove that Three Trapped Tigers has a real knack for closers. On their début, “Magne” and “Reset” were ebullient and cathartic tracks that were also the most polished of their lot. If “Kraken” is the most compelling track on this release for its sheer boisterousness, album closers “Rainbow Road” and “Elsewhere” are easily the most refined tracks on an album whose raw power occasionally comes at the expense of polish. While the former thrusts forward at a fast pace, trailed by shimmering high-exposure neon and grounded by truly flawless drumming that builds toward a climax that is divinely and schizophrenically uplifting, “Elsewhere” rounds off the album with some of the most airtight songwriting the band has crafted yet, with seamless pacing and production to match that of the most seasoned experimental rock outfits around.

It is always a risk when a group re-emerges from obscurity several years after an impressive debut. The question is always: can they pull it off again? On “Silent Earthling,” Three Trapped Tigers answer with a resounding yes.

Now, time to go pray for The Avalanches.

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