Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
Misery loves beauty. That intentional warping of a cliché is clearly false, but as far as music criticism goes, it’s a truism I live by. I want palatable agony that I can repeatedly endure, not frenetic, angsty, and friction filled howling from the soul’s body-filled pain cellar. That’s but one reason I find all that dark, melodramatic nu metal so savagely grating. I mean, so you’re a depressed suburban white kid filled with the amorphous anxieties of the privileged damaged. So the sterile moral efficiency of your upbringing has left you an existential orphan. Join the club and try to be a bit quieter about it.
You can’t tread much softer than Tiger Saw, who sound like Bedhead and Rachel’s after getting nailed with a rhino tranq dart. Dylan Metrano and Juliet Nelson sing from the bottom of a tall glass, in exhaustively, forlorn, gorgeously wisping tones that climb inches only to sink into the songs’ roomy bottoms where the drums twitch slower than dust settles. The bass lines warm the arid desolation, held in long bleeding notes that feel like the hot exhales you use to unthaw your clasped hands on a Winter night. But it’s the guitar that really forms the skeletal core of Tiger Saw, glacially articulated with a sludging dream motion that sounds like LaBradford or American Analog Set, but even more slumbering and deliberated.
There’s the slightest country tint that waxes and wanes, but that’s probably more an effect of association (banjo, steel pedal) than any sound that the instrument’s produce on the record. Then again, there’s a Calexico doing Slowdive vibe on the instrumental, “West of the Sun” with all of its drawling molasses licks and loose threads of cello, a delicate scarcity with a deserted grandeur that’s vaguely Southwestern. “All My Friends Are Right Here With Me” is Whiskeytown on a codeine drip, a simple lament drawn from a few scattered banjo notes and Metrano writing with enough sentimentality to make you think somebody done shot his dog: “All my friends/ All my friends/ Are right here with me/ Deep inside my burning heart”. Any time a body part is on fire (most especially eyes) you know you’re dealing with either a hint of country influence or heavy metal balladry. Tiger Saw take those hints of old country and elongate them out of their context so that the steel pedal sounds like orca mating calls and the violin sounds like lengthy strands of hair mid-air. They mine the genre only for its melancholy density, leaving the rest as chaff.
“Love Will Kill” centers on its whiplashed guitar rhythm, surrounded by a crinkling halo of noise and symbol thrash in the background that gives the track the comparative impression of rocking out. It’s also the song in which the repressed complexity gets a generous airing, when Tiger Saw’s devilish details get to trump their default preference for thickly draped mood. My only regret is that the song’s over before it’s barely begun to crescendo. But that’s also one of Tiger Saw’s principle strengths. It’d be easy for a band this thoroughly steeped in mood to play every song out into eight-minute acts of gluttony, especially since many bands confuse the epic for the bloated and the hypnotic for the repetitious and unimaginative.
“I Am So Cold” is pure vulnerable harmonizing, a threadbare choir backed by piano and acoustic guitar played so sparingly that each instrument sounds like it’s sharing half of every note. The effect, not surprisingly, is huddling and brisk. By slowing their songs down to an ambering crawl, Tiger Saw drawn microscopic attention to every thumb strummed chord and every vocal unleashed in slow leak. They build from that focus, starting atomized melodies and then blossoming them in harmony or a baseline that fuses the parts together like a kiln. It’s impossible not to get that sense of entrancing embrace from Gimme Danger/Gimmer Sweetness that you might expect from a sensory deprivation tank. Beneath the atmospherics these are just adult lullabies: soothing melody wrapped in pure comfort.
Some might find the permanently anchored tempo more than just a drag, but relentlessly dull and plodding. But there’s a time and place for this record. It’s not going to rev you up for a night out of raucous excess. This is an album built for below zero evenings that start at 5pm, nights better spent waiting to tip into dreams from under a pile of quilts.