If it ain’t broke.
After three years of silence, the math rock trio emerges with a new album well worth the wait. TTNG have made some drastic changes over the past few years, trimming their lineup from four to three and deciding that This Town Needs Guns was a bit distasteful and what this town really needed was another music group going under an acronym requiring a PC explanation.
Many fans of Stuart Smith-era TTNG heavily criticised the release of 188.8.131.52.0 and the transition to the more polished, falsetto-favoured lyrics of Henry Tremain, but for many, this album served as a great introduction as it is far and away the most accessible album in the group’s discography. The three-year wait between 184.108.40.206.0 and Disappointment Island has not been a very transformative time period for the group’s sound, however. The record is a very safe, solid follow-up, expanding more upon the intricacies of Tim Collis’s clean, tappy guitar work while continuing to showcase the restless creativity of drummer Chris Collis.
The opening track, ‘Coconut Crab’, perfectly captures the lyrical temperament of TTNG. “Just simply paraphrase all that you’re feeling/into tiny bite sized bits/squeeze them tight so they might fit/over melodies.” Tremain’s opening lines beautifully summarise the rest of the album; Tremain assembles a pool of (mostly melancholic) emotions and squeezes them over the record so that, even without knowledge of the lyrics, one can’t help but feel slightly melancholic themselves. “Words likely have less merit/than the timbre of their sound/so sing anything you feel like/and don’t let it get you down.” This emotive expressiveness makes Disappointment Island highly accessible.
Despite the strong demonstration of emotion, the album lacks a certain level of depth and diversity expected from a band who has released three LPs and two EPs to date. The majority of tracks do not demonstrate the levels of dynamism seen on 220.127.116.11.0, Animals, or even their self-titled EP, and TTNG seem to have stopped considering the idea of using hooks. The tracks ‘Consoling Ghosts’ and ‘Bliss Quest’ serve to break up the album’s consistent tone and start out slower and more sombre while, over time, becoming more restive – before break out into the Collis brothers’ signature syncopation. The most diverse and longest track occurs about halfway through the album. ‘Whatever, Whenever’ lightheartedly explores existential inquiries before simmering down at about the 2 minute mark, suddenly taking on a solemn tone as Tremain reflects on “changing the sheets on my grave” and “reliving mistakes I’ve made.” The song builds and begins to crescendo, expanding slightly on each measure, leading to a final cathartic release in which Tim Collis slams on an effects pedal, driving the guitar tone towards a cheap, yet tasteful ‘crunch’ preset on a $100 Line6, which eventually resolves in a more mellow, signature-TTNG fingerpicked outro.
Disappointment Island is a solid follow up to 18.104.22.168.0 and strong third LP for the Oxford-based trio. TTNG have released a very safe record, choosing not to drastically deviate from their previous sound and ideas. The album is a huge improvement, lyrically, from their second LP and the Collis brothers’ synergy is at an all-time high. The high replay value of this album will keep many fans satisfied for a long time to come, while remaining accessible to potential newcomers. Disappointment Island is no disappointment.