Californian quintet Tigerella’s self-titled debut album is quintessential in that it showcases a flawed but promising young band with slightly more strengths than weaknesses. They make a smart move by putting their best foot forward with opening track “Filet,” definitely the catchiest song ever about cleaning fish. Eighty percent of this band is of Asian descent, and the lyrics to “Filet” come across as a humorously benign way of rebelling against stereotypes traditionally associated with their race. This wouldn’t matter, though, if the music wasn’t any good. Fortunately, the co-ed harmonies are so smooth that it’s difficult to tell the difference between the male and female vocals, and the guitars switch fluidly between bluesy riffing and atonal string strangling. It’s what the Breeders would sound like if Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan was their lead guitarist, and while the hybrid is far from innovative, it’s definitely a blast to listen to. The rest of the album, though, is a series of peaks and valleys that will leave listeners debating whether or not to turn the CD in to the nearest used store for months.
When Tigerella are good, they’re brilliant. “Tidepool” is a beautiful ballad about immersing oneself in nature in order to get away from petty human grievances. The song sounds like it was written by a 19th century Romantic poet who traveled through time to witness the glory days of C-86. “Junior” sorts through the bad memories and emotional scars of a woman who was sexually abused by a family member. You can guess what “Insomniac” is about by its title, but the woozy guitar effects and jazzy chord progressions effectively bring the lyrics to life. At their best, Tigerella are smart, incisive lyricists who tackle diverse subject matter with a wide vocabulary. Their songs are consistently tuneful, and dance tastefully along the line between melody and noise. Even when their songs reach the six- or seven-minute mark, the arrangements never become boring or repetitious. For instance, the unsteady vocals and chiming guitars of “Caleb” suggest a twee version of Goo-era Sonic Youth, but halfway through the song slows down into a watery acoustic reverie.
When Tigerella aren’t good…well, the lows are neither as extreme nor as frequent as the highs. There are only two truly bad songs on the record: “Jack London” and “Calculus of Love,” both of which showcase the downside of having incredibly smart people write your lyrics. Occasionally, they try to cram too many words into a single line, and they often get too clever for their own good. “Jack London” is literary critique disguised as indie-pop, and I don’t think ANYONE could turn lines like “19th century life is no excuse/I think Jack London was a racist liar/He published pornographic thrillers uninformed” into a catchy chorus. I expect this kind of irrelevant and dogmatic preaching from a hardcore punk band. Album closer “Calculus of Love,” though, is even worse, precisely because it lives up to its title so accurately. Lyrics like “We are cosines destined to meet” and “Asymptotically we approach” conjure images of Dilbert-resembling geeks dry humping each other in dimly lit coffee shops. Also, it’s tough to pull off jazzbo noodling like that on “Calculus” if your drummer can barely play, which brings me to my next set of quibbles.
Tigerella’s drummer is the band’s weakest musician, and that’s never a good thing. His inconsistent timekeeping, lazy kick drum, and misplaced cymbal crashes often keep the exquisite guitar playing from developing real momentum. There are sections of songs in which the entire band falls out of sync with each other. The music is so pristinely recorded that the band’s instrumental limitations come through loud and clear. As talented as Tigerella are, they definitely could have used a couple more rehearsals before entering the studio. There are also a couple of songs marred by screaming hissyfits that are meant to sound intimidating, but instead come off as cartoonish. As hard as I’m being on this record, though, there’s enough potential in it to almost guarantee that, with more stringent editing and more frequent practicing, the next album they release will be a sure thing.