Tiger & the Duke, originally released in 2005, didn’t get much attention outside of the Southern California prog-rock circles from which the Sound of Animals Fighting sprung—at least, they didn’t get the widespread media attention someone reckoned the band deserved. The album, previously unavailable, has been re-issued on Equal Vision in a somewhat baffling package: combining the original eight tracks with remixes of the band’s sophomore album Lover, the Lord Has Left Us. The results compound the off-putting dichotomy of the original album, and kind of make us wish for a second release with the remixes, or at the least a second disc.
The Sound of Animals Fighting is a loose collective of musicians from various prog rock and punk bands each assuming a different animal identity (Sound familiar? Well, these guys sound nothing like Animal Collective, just saying). It’s all held together by the Nightingale a.k.a. Rich Balling, formerly of Rx Bandits. During the recording process for Tiger & the Duke, each musician was only allowed to hear the part they contributed—only Balling had access to all the parts together. While this fragmented recording process doesn’t result in fragmented songs (when there are songs), Balling’s control is obvious: this is the Grand Project of one man’s imagination.
And so we’re given four songs—each titled “Act I:”, “Act II:”, etc—interspersed with interludes entirely different in character. The songs themselves are Mars Volta-esque stabs of guitar noise and screaming vocals, with occasional moments of calm that even veer towards pop. There’s something of Mars Volta’s choppiness, but the sound on “Chasing Suns”, for example, is more experimental. “You Don’t Need a Witness” starts with a Muse-like grandiosity, but is interrupted by stabs of guitar noise in an odd, syncopated rhythm. In contrast, the interludes are electronic instrumental compositions with a totally different character—outer space swirls, squelchy electronic synths, cashier-sounds, ping-pong percussion. These tracks would be interesting as the background to songs in their own right (as is evidenced by the Lover remixes that come as a “postlude” to the album), so it’s a little frustrating that Tiger & the Duke‘s similarly named, instrumental “Interludes” and the prog-rock “Acts” songs have such a different character. The problem here may be lack of an identifiable audience: those who like the “Acts” are likely to get a bit impatient with the “Interludes”, and vice versa.
This is a shame, because the Interlude-y side of things (which includes the remixes of Lover) outline a sound with substantial potential. The postlude to the repackaged album is, to say the least, extended: eight further tracks of second-album remixes. These songs are so different to the hard-hitting guitar rock of the first album that I’m still somewhat in disbelief that the same band is responsible. Portugal the Man’s remixes of “Horses in the Sky” and “De-Ceit”, in particular, take the best of Postal Service’s pattering balladry and applies it to TSOAF’s songs really effectively. The first, a mid-tempo song driven by fuzz-drums; the second, all triangle-like synths and slow pulsing “Meet my phantoms”—it’s otherworldly, and beautiful. But the inclusion of the one live track, “Horses in the Sky”, is a misstep. The harder-hitting return to a rock sound feels massively out of place between the more sedate electronica; and in any case, the live setting doesn’t do this music’s complexity full justice.
It’s a little difficult to foresee just who’ll be most excited by the repackaged, re-released Tiger & the Duke. The proggy experimentations of the “Acts” may still be too full-on for those who most appreciate the electronic ballads; and those who were initially frustrated by the “Interludes” will likely switch off before the entire second half.