The first Miniature Tigers record, Tell It To The Volcano, was probably an over-share. Sure, frontman Charlie Brand did a great job of couching his heartbreak in stories about some Lost-like tropical netherworld, but it didn't take a working knowledge of Freud to understand that the "Cannibal Queen" Brand spoke of was not literally a woman of tribal royalty who consumes human flesh.
Those songs were, of course, written mostly for MySpace. As the sensitive Phoenicin turned Brooklynite got more attention, he seemed to grow less happy with having put himself out there.
So perhaps it should come as no surprise that Miniature Tigers' thick-walled sophomore album is called Fortress. Any allusions to real life are doubly fortified this time, as are the production values. Not only is Brand not disclosing any potentially awkward information here, the unique timbre of his endearingly brittle voice is barely audible behind layers of gauzy production.
For example, the big revelation we get on the bitpoppy first single, the Neon Indian-produced "Gold Skull," is that Brand is turning off his cell phone for the night to chill out. Sadly, the music video does not feature Brand in a women's prison with soda-can rollers in his hair.
It'd be easy to assume that the proclivities of the New York chillwavers the Tigers are palling around with now are to blame for the departure from the straightforward twee that made Volcano such a joy. But I think it's more deliberate than that. The first song, "Mansion of Misery," begins with Brand singing what sounds like: "Thinking about throwing away the key / What would that be, for you and me? Whoaaa. / Who says something, throwing away the me? / Still looking out, only for myself."
His decision about throwing out — or at least concealing — the key unfolds throughout Fortress.
The second track, "Rock & Roll Mountain Troll," is presented as a self-deprecating confession about being "stoned at 3 a.m. and talking to myself in public," but it's damn well no "Now I'm out for black magic revenge / On all of your friends / There's a pet death coming."
From there, things get progressively more opaque. "Lolita," for example, opens with a nice bit of expository piano, and the description of the curly-haired 17-year-old might have a deeper meaning than is obvious to outsiders, but it's impossible not to notice the song totally lacks the intimacy of its comrade, the similarly Ruskie-related Volcano track "Tchaikovsky & Solitude."
By the end of the record, we're listening to some chick sing the word "coyote" over and over while Brand talks about the weather before an echo effect renders even those words unintelligible. The song, like so many on Fortress, has an intriguing melody and a nice beat, but that's only half the formula that made Volcano so endearing.
Of course Brand said he didn't understand why we liked his previous work. With Fortress, he's fixed what bothered him. Sound-wise, it's a trendy, though probably smart, step forward. That's good, I guess, though I miss Charlie the confessor.
Overall, Fortress is a solid effort when you get past the fact that it's not nearly as in-your-face charming as its predecessor.
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