Tricky things EPs. They often serve as brief placeholders for bands that want a break from recording and the road, but need to have some product on the street. Some EPs are “everything but the kitchen sink” experiences, offering the listener an unedited stream of covers, outtakes and B-sides that make the discs required listening for only the most ardent followers. Still other EPs are used to explore a band’s back catalog, revisiting music that a developing sound has left behind. The latter can be the most satisfying listening experience, providing a missing link for fans that have listened carefully to a band’s development.
In the case of Call and Response the maturation from debut to sophomore effort was quite a juxtaposition. Call and Response’s 2001 self-titled debut album was, like many debut albums, a stylistic mish mash. Covering everything from straight pop music, to spacey jazz inflected tunes, to music for film soundtracks, the group made little effort to incorporate their inspirations into a cohesive listen. But when they hit their groove they came on like the drunken girl that gets everyone into the living room to shake their asses. Recalling Stereolab and Saint Etienne, Call and Response got deserved attention for what was described as a fun, “twee” pop sound.
On their 2004 follow up Winds Take No Shape the band had begun to mine a very different territory that critics seemed comfortable labeling “mature”. Pushing into territory that was described as “impressionistic” and “beautiful”, Call and Response may have forgotten about fun during their “maturation” process.
The songs on Tiger Teeth are leftovers. After recording their debut for Emperor Norton the band returned to the studio to begin work on the follow up. Unfortunately, Emperor Norton entered into a state of flux eventually being acquired by Rykodisc. Tiger Teeth is what the band was left with once their contract expired and the results of those early sessions became their property. Tiger Teeth is less about what the band is and more about what the band was. If they lost you at all with Winds Take No Shape then Tiger Teeth will most likely be a welcome return to form despite the songs sometimes haphazard feel.
The album opener “Nervous Wreck” is a buoyant song carried by a funky guitar and a simple piano line that wouldn’t seem at all out of place emanating from the belly of serious four-on-the-floor house music. A synthesizer break at the midway point changes the song from funky workout to extended noodle session. There in lies the biggest problem with Tiger Teeth, just when the band seems to find its groove the songs have a tendency to devolve into extended exercises in basement jam sessions or, worse, just peter out.
The title track is a sultry mid-tempo number pushed along by an insistent guitar run. The song has as many stylistic stops, starts and tempo changes as a conversation with a coke-addled ADD patient.
“Messages” is one of the EP highlights. The production is more completely realized here, bringing out the band’s deeper harmonies for a fuller sound.
On the whole Tiger Teeth can’t be proffered as a good starting point for someone exploring the band’s catalog, that should certainly be Call and Response. But for confirmed fans Tiger Teeth will be a refreshing, though unpolished, reminder of the bands beginnings.
// Notes from the Road
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