Three Trapped Tigers Three Trapped TigersRoute One Or Die
Progressive Rock, that fustian seventies genre beloved of many and maligned by, well, many, is still here. Its flamboyant propagators with their preposterous set design, powerful hallucinogens and flowing capes are not dead. They've just been reincarnated in the form of self-effacing guys called Gavin who wear plain t-shirts and drink bottles of San Miguel. Where once they prowled the stage dressed as human sunflowers, they now shelter behind their instruments, shielded by a mask of modesty.
They pop up every now and then, disguised by misnomers like Math-Rock, Nu-Psych or even IDM, distinguishable only by faintly pretentious names and semi-smothered predilections for endless solos – Porcupine Tree, The Mars Volta and Battles all appear along this time-line.
It is the last of these that Three Trapped Tigers most resemble, combining unassuming personalities with frankly terrifying levels of musicianship. And while their début album, “Route One Or Die”, may lack the humour that makes Battles a less po-faced proposition, musically it frequently surpasses anything on the New Yorkers' recent “Gloss Drop” record.
It kicks off with a blast of something you're going to have to get used to if you're to glean any enjoyment from the record – near-constant noodling. Opener “Cramm” sets the template: direction-less, double-time metal riffs dominate, before being dumped in favour of the main motif (they don't really do choruses), which often sounds like it could be the theme to a particularly fucked up sci-fi / manga flick. This then suddenly segues into a delicate keyboard reduction which just... about... lulls... you to... sleep... before *BANG* the drums and guitars kick in again, vigorously meandering their way back to the motif.
Most of the tracks follow this loose recipe. “Noise Trade” kicks off like Lightning Bolt if they'd been mistakenly booked to play a Martian jazz club, while the appropriately-titled “Creepies” lets an uneasy, unsettling noise swell into a downright nasty theme that conjures horrific HR Giger nightmares, all slimy alien flesh and deadly lacerations, adding contrapuntal acid bubbles and an obligatory crunching riff to close.
The pace is then relaxed by the opium of “Ulnastricter”, which not only sounds like a Squarepusher title but recalls two of his friendlier tracks, “Circlewave” and “Tundra”. Here the most gorgeous repeating jazz chords underpin TTT at their most accomplished and reasonable. Indeed, it goes a whole three minutes without a noodling psych-out (the noodles aren't served until thirty seconds later. Ho Fun, ho-hum).
This is the main trouble with Three Trapped Tigers. As the album title suggests, it's always route one or die. Apart from the ambient “Zil” there's little respite from the excess, and while the quality doesn't diminish much in the second half of the album, by that point the relentless bombardment has become tiring. Eventually all the technical proficiency and cleverness just leaves you cold. After watching them live recently (which is worth doing just to witness Adam Betts in full flow, one of the best drummers you'll ever see) a friend remarked, “they're obviously great musicians, I just wish one of them had taste.” I think it's more likely they all have taste; but maybe it’s focussed in different directions.
The band gained recognition following a string of EP releases, and in all honesty that's their ideal format; their brand of modern Prog is just too hard to sustain over an entire album. It's not that the record sags at any point, it's more that it's so taut it strains the structure to breaking point. The title “Route One Or Die” suggests a mid-table football team with one tactic, the “kick and rush” game that England are regularly denounced for playing. TTT's music is more intricate and expansive than simply hoofing it up to the big man, but they do seem to lack a counterpoint that might make their preferred style less exhausting. Though capable of captivating moments, if these tigers really are trapped, it's in a cage of their own making. Kier Wiater-Carnihan