The garage is smoking...no, it's on fire
For a hip-hop capital, Atlanta, Georgia and its environs have a surprisingly diverse and thriving garage rock scene. The Black Lips are maybe the best known band from the area, but there are other good ones, the Forty Fives, the Woggles (if you count Athens) and the Subsonics, to name a few. Buffi Guero, the lead singer and main songwriter for Tiger! Tiger!, is the drummer for the Subsonics, but she’s also put in time with Vendettas and White Lights.
You might think that a band led by the drummer of another band known for its surf blues primitivism would be… hmmm, how shall we say, straightforward? But in fact, this is a fairly sophisticated album within its genre, sultry and ass-kicking by turns, but in an unusually intelligent and varied way. There are rockabilly freak-outs (the title track), sax-honking, fanny-wiggling fuck-off songs (“Cheap Imitation”), and soulful 12/8 blues laments (“How Much Can You Take”). There’s a dreamy, jazzy torch song, where Guero sounds about as world-weary and love-damaged as a young woman can (“Two By Two”) and one party-hearty rave-up sung by one of the guys. This latter cut is a total blast whose title just happens to be “Misfortune, Bad Weather and Debt”. (Try it next time you’re under the influence of any or all of the three. I am almost sure it will help.)
The point is that every song is a party, but not exactly the same party, and if your host is a little tipsy, she is also sharp as a razor. Razors, in fact, come to mind with the raucous guitars that frame “Black Daggers”, ratcheting up and down the neck, drawing blood with their blues-tinged sharpness. You could cut yourself on this song, it’s so sharp, and it would bleed for a long time. But, what can you do except shout along with Tiger! Tiger! to “keep your black daggers…. black daggers off of me.”
It’s not just Guero’s show either. She trades off vocals with bass player Suzanne Gibboney (also a Vendettas vet), for a fractious, all-girl rowdiness that is a joy to hear. Not that this is one of those militant we-are-girls-fueled-with-righteous-anger bands either. There are guys in the band, too, kicking in the sax and organ that give Tiger! Tiger! it’s authentic 1960s soul raunch. Saxophonist Shane Pringle gives “Cheap Imitation” and almost ska flavor with its rapid blurts of party saxophone and he and organist Sam Levja up the hedonism factor of “Misfortune, Bad Weather and Debt” considerably with their no-holds-barred wailing.
Tiger! Tiger! doesn’t have the toughness, the scariness of girl-fronted bands like the Detroit Cobras or the Paybacks. Instead there’s a nuance, a hint of self-deprecation and humor that makes these songs a little bit more interesting than they have any right to be. Garage can be a conservative genre. Tiger! Tiger! doesn’t seem particularly worried about whether it colors inside or outside the lines, neither willfully screwing with the format nor slavishly following it. They’re just doing what they do, and that’s exciting. It’s like Guero says in album highlight “Cheap Imitation.” “Now that the numbers are in,” she spits, every caustic word backed by a slammed out chord and kick drum and cymbal. Then there’s a pause and she’s just a pissed-off woman talking to her ex. “We both know… she’s just a cheap imitation of me.”
Not much danger of that. She and Tiger! Tiger! are originals.
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// Sound Affects
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