Tigue mixes classic and rock percussion to great effect, Radiation City makes a claim for relevance
The debut full-length album Peaks from the Brooklyn percussion ensemble Tigue sounds like what might be the result of taking minimalist modern classical percussion pieces and injecting propulsive rock into the proceedings, driving the momentum with a compelling and often thrilling style that could find a home either in a concert hall or a rock club.
Beginning with simple rim-shot clicks and sparse drumbeats, the album opener “Cranes” soon ramps up the complexity, shaping primitive beats into a spiral spider web of polyrhythms that is clearly composed but never feels constrained.
The drones in the background of “Sitting” offer just a hint of a melody as honey dripping through the cracks between the notes, before “Mouth” takes off with its melodic mantra, accented with vibraphone chords.
Joining the core trio of Matt Evans, Amy Garapic, and Carson Moody on “Mouth” are guitarist Ira Kaplan and bassist James McNew of Yo La Tengo plus guitarist Shahin Motia of Oneida and Ex Models.
Speaking of Oneida, that group’s drummer Kid Millions (a.k.a. John Colpitts) is the producer of Peaks, which makes sense, knowing his rigorous and intense percussion group Man Forever.
“Drones” cleanses the palate with sustained monotonic notes that use phasing to generate textures, before “Drips” goes into even more abstract territory, with artificial metallic rain and mysterious lurking noises.
“Dress Well” is perhaps like a spiritual sibling to the Tortoise album TNT, with ringing vibraphone notes, a cascading minimalist motif, and a general hopeful attitude that pushes the piece along and inspires movement within the listener.
The figurative waves of “Cerulean” act as the album’s cool down session, with periodic aural radiation invading the track in its own peculiar rhythm among the drones and drum beats decelerating with precision.
Peaks alternates between the rush of exciting polyrhythms and neutral pieces that act as sonic airlocks, arranged together in a way that’s stimulating for both the mind and body.
The Portland quintet Radiation City has always been onto something, offering its warm pop artificiality that benefits from great sounding studio production and hard-to-place musical references that provide just a touch of nostalgia without ever going into full-on throwback mode.
The earlier material at times wasn’t assertive enough to rope the listener in consistently, despite the group having mapped out its own meticulous style, but over the last six years, the band has improved its songwriting.
Its latest full-length and debut for Polyvinyl, Synesthetica, delivers the hooks this critic was waiting for and further refines its sonic personality while it stretches out its arms.
The album’s salvo is strong, with the opening “Oil Show” presenting a sort of early-’80s Talking Heads vibe, with slender guitar shards among the pop carnival with a hint of funk and assured singing.
“Juicy” saunters and slithers, taking its sweet time to assemble its ingredients, and its lyrical wordplay, while often indecipherable, has a charming construction and rhythm to it; take, for example, the fragment “cacophonous occasion couldn’t conjure up the stamen” which sticks out with its consonance, setting up the scene for a release of vocal tension.
The smooth “Butter” uses a vague ‘80s pop sophistication—think Destroyer’s Kaputt but mixed with the alluring mystery of a James Bond theme, evoked with an upward string-section glissando.
The soft pounding in the boy/girl-sung “Come and Go” is persuasive, which provides a punch during each glorious chorus delivered with the right panache—no wilting flower here.
It’s refreshing to hear a band on the rise, and one of the group’s talents is reconstructing pop in a way that’s balanced so that the listener isn’t distracted by trying to discern the electronic from the organic sounds—it’s in their fabric; for Radiation City, the artificiality comes naturally.