Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Album Review: I Won't Care How You Remember Me by Tigers Jaw (by Richard Mair)

This may be getting slightly revisionist a little prematurely but looking at the notable, iconic punk scenes that have really driven the genre forward from New York CBGBs in the late 70s early 80s to the skate punk explosion of California in the 90s and then Boston’s hardcore scene of the 00s we really need to add Scranton / Philly / Pennsylvania to the list. Sure the headline acts of The Wonder Years and The Menzingers get the coverage but, if I’m honest, my heart belongs firmly to perennial underdogs Tigers Jaw. Very few bands have such an emotional resonance that drive nails into my heart repeatedly but on their 6th long player they have truly struck gold... and as such “I Won’t Care How You Remember Me” has all the ingredients of being a massive crossover success, blending emo, pop, rock, punk and maybe even a little shoe gaze into one perfect album rammed with stunning hooks and earworms. This, coupled with the immense bankability of the affable, warm and humble Ben and Brianna as focal point, their charm, DIY ethic and dedication to their craft set to the spectre of the 2013 break-up that makes them the everyman heroes people can really get behind. And get behind them on “IWCHYRM” you must because it’s a magical, breezy, emotionally gut punching, heart wrenching album that captivates from start to finish.

Drawing comparisons it’s very reminiscent of Saves The Day classic “Stay What You Are”... the quintessential breakup album; Like SWYA there is a underpinning resilience and hopefulness that shines through the heartbreak. Musically, I think this is the strongest reference point for “IWCHYRM”; it’s a reworking of the early 00s emo for a new generation; it’s hugely accessible, full of massive singles, laden with singalongs and has enough emotion coursing through it that it can repeatedly stop you in your tracks time and time again... like “SWYA” it’s an album that finds the band at the top of their game with their construct of melody, pacing and creativity. The way the songs build to satisfying conclusions is very reminiscent of The Hotelier at their finest, gone are the 1:30 ditties, instead each song pleasingly rounds out and feels complete and of this current generation of emo pioneers it also reminds heavily of mid-era now defunct Captain We’re Sinking, with the fellow Scrantonites making use of a fuller band sound to create something special that stands shoulder to shoulder with the peerless “The Future is Cancelled” (especially ‘Montreal’ which you can hear echoing through the album). Finally it has all the hallmarks of The Get Up Kids “Something To Write Home About”, again in terms of its use of melody but also the way the album creates its own space (and negative space); it feels like a living and breathing construct that hides in the shadows, it’s little changes in tempo and melody done with such a beautiful craft that they enhance the experience... (take the subtle stop / starts in chorus of Hesitation or the drop into the nosier moments of the title track). There is so much detail across landscape of the album. Much of this credit must lie with the irrepressible Will Yip but the confidence the band show in him to create this signature is equally impressive... I might go out on a limb and say this is his Magnum Opus.

The opening line is the name of the album and also the title of the first song, and it’s such an important lyric that pulls all the themes and threads of the record together. As an opening song, its sombre, reflective charm is a real departure from what the band have done previously (take the frantic pop-punk of ‘The Sun’ or the post hardcore vibes of ‘Return’). For over two minutes Ben leads us solo through his reconciliation of endings, imploring the focus of his anguish to not ask why. Then the familiar Tigers Jaw album opener comes into full focus, paired with a more passionate vocal delivery. It’s just the most incredible opening track I’ve heard since maybe The Hotelier dropped ‘Introduction To The Album’ on ‘Home, Like No Place...’. It’s a crescendo of noise more akin to a building album closer than opener, but in the scheme of the album it works perfectly. It’s also a millstone that the band put around their necks having to better throughout the album. Thankfully, the journey and experience through the remaining ten tracks is well worth it!

Taking a more equitable approach to the songwriting and position within the band, Brianna Collins is very much at the forefront on almost half of the album and the second track ‘Cat’s Cradle’ picks up from her approach on ‘Spin’. It has a very stylistically familiar tone that places it alongside ‘June’, albeit much more up-tempo. It’s really easy to understand why this is one of the lead singles off the album, it’s a proper pop song; easy on the ears with a real catchy melody. Lyrically it’s about ending friendships, and interwoven deceit. Again it’s a highly relatable, angsty sentiment packaged up in clean radio friendly tune, and it’s this juxtaposition of upbeat music and downbeat lyrics that the band have truly nailed on this album. Nothing feels forced or contrived, instead it has an effortless sombre delight to it throughout.

Another lead song off the album is ‘Hesitation’ and it’s a classic Ben song. Sure it has the most obvious Twin Peaks references, but is perfectly paced, has a killer chorus and excellent guitar licks that keep the verses ticking along. ‘New Detroit’ is possibly the most sedate song on the album, offering a moment of reflection after the frantic opening trio of massive songs. It helps transition to the middle of the album with ‘Can’t Wait Forever’ being the most traditional ‘punk’ song and perhaps most reminiscent of early Tigers Jaw, particularly with the guitar tones and Brianna’s keys providing the background melody.

Both ‘Lemon Mouth’ and ‘Body Language’ pick up on the themes of loss that pull the album together. ‘Lemon Mouth’ in particular stands out as it’s perhaps the most abstract song on the album and has a more latter day Paramore feel about it. In many ways it feels unique amongst Tigers Jaws catalogue; perhaps more akin to classic synth pop bands of the early 80s or maybe even The Cure at their most abstract but accessible. It’s a real slow burner of a song, with even the vocal delivery having a slower pace to it. ‘Body Language’ by contrast feels almost indie / Brit pop in its vibe. While both excellent, they only serve to build up to what is the album’s real gem. ‘Commit’ is a monster of a classic single, and likely to have a huge appeal outside of their traditional audience. First off, Brianna’s vocal delivery is amazing and the song just helps demonstrate her versatility and range especially on what in principle sounds like a typical “Ben song”. It’s a simple pop punk banger but is crafted beautifully. Again, it’s a song dealing with a relationship on the brink; it identifies a toxicity within the relationship and certainly not an equitable one but at the same time a desire to work through the mistakes. Everything about the song works, from its emotional weight, to the summery pop tune that is almost akin to the best 80s Madonna stylings. It’s just the most perfect pop song and rounds off with some amazing guitar work (possibly the best they’ve ever committed to record).

‘Never Wanted To’ feels like a hangover from the massively underrated “Charmer” in the best way possible, it’s simple tempo and melody allowing Ben’s voice to take centre stage. It’s such a simple but haunting song that opens the final third of the album and segues nicely into ‘Heaven Apart’. Both songs share a DNA in terms of that moment of realisation that the relationship is ending. They are the truly sombre reflections the album has been working towards. The opportunity to allow oneself to fondly look back on the past, reconciling what has been lost, but also allows for the album’s pay off to come. ‘Anniversary’ is truly majestic. It’s about finally moving on from the past, taking ownership of the mistakes made. Whilst not as long as Weezer’s ‘Only in Dreams’,  it reminds me so much of that career highlight from Rivers and the boys… from the excellent guitar work that builds towards the song’s conclusion but also in that both songs have such hope attached to them. ‘Only in Dreams’ speaks of that ‘what if’ scenario of the object of affection, whereas this is about moving into the light after a toxic relationship. Both are just joyous constructs and round off their respective albums perfectly. This is Tigers Jaw swinging for the fences and hitting a real home run. On an album that is full of epic moments, it’s that payoff the band set out to achieve from the outset.

Lyrically it’s easy to get lost in the meanings and iconography of the songs (and that’s not taking into account the Twin Peaks references or other reused Orgcore lyrics). The first thing to say concerns the title (and song of the same name) which doesn’t speak of the definite. They don’t write about ‘I don’t care about how you remember me’ they talk of ‘won’t’, a subtle difference that lives in the moment and reflects pain and hurt back to the listener ; as if saying “I will remember for now but it will get easier in time...” One such little change in the wording conveys the emotion so much more and throughout the album the lyrics tug at heartstrings or deliver continuous sucker punches. Whilst I’m sure most fans of the scene’s current miserablist torchbearers Spanish Love Songs will be familiar with Tigers Jaw, if anyone reading this is in two minds I can assure them that “IWCHYRM” is the perfect launch pad into the band.

There are a myriad of recurring themes through the album that are linked to perception, the obvious one is that of mirrors and reflections and I think this is where the album really stands out. There is a personal reflection towards the break-ups being experienced. A similar theme is echoed through colours and chameleons, suggesting an acknowledgement of seeing what you want to see in others or that they have hidden their true self. Both Ben and Brianna actively consider their roles in these relationships and try to get perspective both from the other party but also from the listener, at the same time looking for that reconciliation; acknowledging their faults. As stated, the album lives in that space between definites occurring; living with the guilt of decisions that negatively impact on others, constructing favourable narratives to help rationalise these decisions. Consequently, the depth of human understanding conveyed through the lyrics is just astounding; alongside being amazingly singalong-able. The album’s closing lines in particular are crying out for an audience to sing them. And knowing how devoted the fans are, I’m very sure they will sing them back and it will no doubt feel special when they do.

Much of this review has focussed on the central figures of Ben and Brianna for obvious reasons given they have carried the Tigers Jaw flag on their own over recent years, however the inclusion of permanent members Teddy Roberts (drums) and Colin Gorman (bass) has certainly helped give the album a consistency, and their presence in making their instruments shine has given “IWCHYRM” a much more rounded sound compared to ‘Spin’. Both are clearly great additions and fully grasp what makes Tigers Jaw unique and special, and I’m sure they’ll be equally at home playing in front of the band’s notoriously rabid fans! A further point to make about the album is the omission of last year’s ‘Warn Me’. Genuinely, I was surprised to see this wasn’t on the album’s track listing given its quintessential Tigers Jaw-ness and how much of a classic lead single it is. This can’t have been an easy decision but demonstrates that the priority was releasing a much more cohesive and balanced set of songs and the track’s more positive outlook maybe put it at odds with the album. Consequently, I’d urge everyone to track it down as it’s equally as impressive as the actual album tracks!

I started this review by stating my heart belongs to Tigers Jaw and with “IWCHYRM” they have delivered an exceptional album that deserves to be heard by a far greater audience than a typical DIY driven band would generally reach. For the last decade, Ben and Brianna have consistently delivered and confounded, their reinventions subtle but discernible, with each album having its own personality and aesthetics. If ‘Spin’ was them proving they could carry the Tigers Jaw legacy without the imposing spectre of the immense character of Adam McIlwee looming over them then this is Tigers Jaw truly finding their stride and making giant steps out of the shadows of their past.

Stream and download I Won't Care How You Remember Me on Bandcamp here.

Like Tigers Jaw on Facebook here.

This review was written by Richard Mair.

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