TTNG's precocious indieisms-meets-knotty math rock is technically impressive, even when it slumps into a homogenous sonic.
"TTNG," you're likely thinking to yourself, "What does that mean?" It's not an acronym that elicits an immediate association, nor does it phonetically match any word it refers to. However, the people most likely asking themselves this question are fans of the band This Town Needs Guns, who on the day of the release of their sophomore LP 18.104.22.168.0 announced they "will simply be known as" TTNG. The band cited the recent shootings in the United States—the home of their label, Sargent House—as one of the primary reasons behind the change, as well as the nature of the their hometown, Oxford, UK. "In the UK, guns are not present. Ordinarily, our police force do not even carry guns. Within this context, an idea such as a town needing guns seems too absurd to be taken seriously," they wrote, not unwarrantedly assuming that Americans know little about the very successful gun ban in the United Kingdom.
Of course, shortening one's name to an acronym isn't really a change as much it is an act of streamlining. Conveniently, this decision mirrors the shifting members of TTNG; once a four-piece group, the departure of vocalist Stuart Smith and bassist Jamie Cooper has left TTNG to become a small but intricate trio, with Henry Tremain filling the void left by their departure. The political sensitivity of the name "change" was a nice perk to top the changing dynamics of the band.
But the real benefit of the name change, I would argue, is that the angry mob that comes to the mind from a name like "This Town Needs Guns" isn't at all befitting of these British math rockers. The type of math rock TTNG purvey in is less The Dillinger Escape Plan and more Minus the Bear; technically virtuosic enough to draw in the high-minded listener but indie enough to get a couple of plays at Urban Outfitters. "Violence" isn't a word in their musical lexicon. The knotty complexity of their instrumentation and arrangements is thoroughly impressive, far better than an ordinary shredder. Guitarist Tim Collis' fingerpicking-heavy style is closest in kin to the mandolin playing of Nickel Creek's Chris Thile; rather than opting for flurries of 16th notes without any real coherence to their order, Collis brings a necessary nuance out of his rapidly played guitar lines. On opener and lead single "Cat Fantastic," he burns through a great many notes, but they never feel like they're there just to add black circles on a staff. When this delicate playing is manifested most obviously, in the stroll-in-the-garden instrumental "Pygmy Polygamy," it's actually less effective—though no less pretty—mainly because when Collis buries his whirlwind speed in rote clean guitar tones, it doesn't overwhelm in the way that math rock can so easily do.
Unfortunately, despite the tightness of this trio's musical interplay, 22.214.171.124.0 overall suffers from a homogenous sound. As mouth-watering as this record will prove for fans of advanced musical theory, the affability of the band's core sound, where punchy riffs and solos are played through crisp tones—there's almost no distortion on 126.96.36.199.0—ends up undercutting the forcefulness that could have been present. It's not hard to hear a propulsive jam waiting to erupt out of many of these songs, but everything is so meticulously planned, so reined in that all the virtuosity is just left to fend for itself. Even when TTNG deviate from the indieisms that so dominate this album, it's all too brief: "Nice Riff, Clichard" starts off like Mogwai circa Come On Die Young and ends with glitchy sputtering that wouldn't be out of place on an Aphex Twin LP. Cool as that song is, at just over two minutes it's a brief respite from the overwhelming friendliness of the rest of this material.
This isn't to say that had someone kicked a distortion pedal on at some point 188.8.131.52.0 would have been a much better record; far from it. There's something to be said about the way which TTNG deliberately underplay a type of music that could be much more grandiose than it sounds to be. But sometimes, boiling things down to an acronym, to a concise summary, isn't the wisest move; sometimes it's worth firing off a gun or two.