Wouldn’t the name Tiger Baby be a great nickname for your girlfriend? An old friend of mine used to run around in these green Pumas saying they were her ‘powerful shoes’, shoes that used to make her feel powerful. Your tiger baby would be the same: strong, competent, complete—sexy through confidence. Tiger Baby, a Danish trio that specializes in mid-tempo, commercial synthpop, attempts to capture this confident sexiness; the result is not so much sensuality as alienation, as if to say No matter how beautiful you are on the surface, no matter how powerful your shoes, there are certain pains still cut to the heart.
If nothing else, Scandinavian bands are good for writing biography paragraphs, and Tiger Baby is no different. The band members have the evocative names of Pernille Pang, Benjamin Teglbjaerg and Nikolaj Gregersen—the former, the lead vocalist and requisite cover-art beauty; the latter two producers previously in Danish indie group Polytone. The group formed in 1999, but didn’t release their debut album, Lost in You, until 2004. From what I have heard of it, the album was firmly on the pop side of commercial dance, the kind of tunes that are made for car commercials or for party scenes in teen TV dramas.
Noise Around Me, the group’s second album, turns to darker waters for inspiration, and while still firmly synthpop, there is much more of New Order’s darkness here. The vocals are still light and airy, like Allison Goldfrapp, and there’s plenty of treble synths and string melodies to satisfy your commercial ear; but the intensity has been turned up. You could think of the band’s sound as a darker, less experimental version of fellow-Scandinavian, Annie.
The increased emphasis on the bass doesn’t always work in the home listening environment. The sound becomes squelchy if your speakers cannot handle the bass—it’s an ugly sound, and it intrudes on the experience of listening to these songs, particularly on “Girlfriend” and “At Least I’m Honest”. But it’s easy to imagine hearing this on a larger sound system, of the bass being the most appealing aspect. A bigger problem is that this darker, bass-heavy sound doesn’t always match the songs themselves (“Moved Me” is a notable example). The vocals seem at times laid over the top of the interesting synthpop beats, rather than organically growing out of the texture as is the case on the best dance tracks (or where, as with Annie’s best songs, the music seems to echo her wispy voice).
Still, Noise Around Me packs in a number of strong synthpop numbers and, at 35 minutes, is wise not to outstay its welcome. “At Least I’m Honest” takes New Order and turns it into a catchy synthpop ditty. “Parkova” is a classic commercial dance melody, with swirling synths that spiral out of control, as if the steady, pattering snare can’t quite hold the syncopated, atonal harmonics in place. “Prolusion” sounds like a late ‘90s trance anthem, slowed down to 3/4 speed. And slower tracks such as “Bosphorous Bridge” and “Magic M” prove the band is just as successful at down-tempo electronica (in the vein of Sneaker Pimps).
Surprisingly, the U.S.-only bonus cover of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is one of the strongest tracks. Among female vocal electronic covers of the song, Tiger Baby certainly beats Nouvelle Vague: the song doesn’t feel like it’s attempting to bring a sensuality the original is devoid of, and Pang’s ethereal voice perfectly communicates the dissociation of the famous chorus: “love will tear us apart again”.
The way Pang’s voice communicates alienation is really the biggest reason to seek out Tiger Baby. The mismatch, when done right, is mesmerizing; listened to on the right equipment, the effect could be extremely agreeable. Not sublime, though; these songs are too genre-specific to have the appeal of Ladytron or Annie, and the band hasn’t embraced darkness with quite the same sophistication as The Knife. Tiger Baby may not be the most powerful or innovative force in commercial dance, but they have created a solid, engaging album that is consistently enjoyable.