This Town Needs Guns are an Oxford based outfit formed by Stuart Smith and Tim Collis in 2004. Several band members and a few moderately successful E.P.s later they are still touring the world over and in 2008 released their debut full album, Animals. This album brings you 13 (well 12½) tracks of their unashamedly experimental math rock. Not always an easy genre to listen to but interesting none the less. The album’s tracks are all named after different animals but this has very little bearing on the content of the lyrics. While they were writing the album they named all their tracks after animals as temporary placeholders with every intention of giving them real names before release but in the end they just did not bother. Anyway on to the album itself…
One of the first things you notice about this album is that the band appears to have mislaid their distortion pedals. This leaves the music very stripped back – you might even say pure – which is astonishing when you realise how much is actually going on with the guitars and the huge amount of notes that they cram into each track. The meandering guitar parts dance around the fretboards throughout the whole album, which is fine until it begins to feel that you have been just listening to one long track rather than 13 different ones. The only let up in this never ending barrage is the final track, Zebra, which replaces the now tiresome guitar with what sounds like a Glockenspiel and some discordant strings. The string parts feel like they have been carried on from the previous track, Rabbit, as the guitar fades away towards the end of this track and leaves the strings alone – it has a definite reminiscence of Damien Rice. This is by no means a bad thing but is all unfortunately too little to late to rescue the album from becoming awfully samey.
Another key element of TTNG’s music is the inconsistency in time signature. This choice would usually cause havoc for a drummer and being a drummer myself I feel his pain. That being said Chris Collis manages to work with these difficulties and create something that never feels jarring or forced and is actually quite impressive. Pay particular notice to Panda, where I get the overriding feeling that the drummer is working a lot harder than the song is and drags his bandmates kicking and screaming to the end of the track when they would really prefer to be going slower.
The lyrics and singing are really nothing to write home about. The lyrics seem to have a fairly bleak self-pitying element to them, seemingly all about difficult relationships with members of the opposite sex. This, coupled with a lazy and slightly whining vocal (especially in Gibbon), is reminiscent of Panic! At The Disco. And you could definitely paint TTNG with a little bit of colour from the Emo brush. The only time this feeling is alleviated is when Stuart Smith steps a little out of his vocal comfort zone and you can hear his voice crack a little (Badger, Gibbon). This adds a passion that does not seem to be there for most of the rest of the album and, along with some scattered close harmonies, really lift the vocals to the same level as the rest of the song.
My final thoughts about the album are that it has its eccentricities, such as TTNG’s inability to start a song (you have the feeling you have come in half way through) and the bizarre use of trumpet instead of a vocal in Elk (could they not think of any lyrics?). But all-in-all it is a relatively well put together experience. The guitar is mesmerising, the drumming is very impressive and I like the feeling you get that it may have been recorded in someone’s living room. These quality elements are unfortunately let down by the vocals and the fact that each track is relatively similar. In future I’ll listen to one track at a time not all thirteen in a row.
Standout Track: Pig
Overall score: 6/10