As good as the band's debut album Tell it to the Volcano was, Fortress could not have existed had the band stuck it out in Phoenix. I'm not trying to rag on PHX -- it just can't hold a candle to the multitude of other, like-minded artists and musicians that call Brooklyn home. Hell, no other place really can, either. Fortress, then, has a decidedly Brooklyn feel to it and that, my friends, is quite a good thing.
Fortress kicks off with the sublime "Mansion of Misery," a perfect way to set the album's rather toned down, calm-ish feel. I can say that, without hesitation, lead singer Charlie Brand carries this album. He is the lifeblood of the band and his singing craftily dodges the oft-banal pitfalls of the painfully whiny/nasally/outright boring indie rock singing style. Don't get me wrong, however, as there is plenty of innovation and unique instrumentation present on Fortress, as well. Antoine Batiste would be so proud of Mini Ts on Fortress -- the band really played for their money this time around.
Fortress is a decidedly mellow album, yet the band's polish shines through all of this as they create vivid, engaging songs that -- while being toned-down from their normal indie rock/pop -- still engage the audience. The album has its upbeat moments, though, and none is better than the Alan Palomo/Neon Indian-produced "Gold Skull
." If I had a grandiose agenda to prove that Fortress couldn't have been recorded in Phoenix (which I really don't), this track would have been the entirety of my proof. There simply aren't too many local bands collaborating with someone like Alan Palomo -- Mini Ts got out to New York and were exposed to the opportunity to work with Palomo, himself a denizen of Brooklyn. Palomo's ear for electronic music matches up perfectly with Charlie Brand's vocals, helping solidify "Gold Skull" as one the standout tracks.
Fortress progresses beautifully throughout its ten songs, coming to a somber, peaceful head with the final three songs "Tropical Birds," "Lolita" and "Coyote Enchantment." "Lolita" is a rollicking, thumping song while "Tropical Birds" has an undeniable AM Gold feel with its joyous tambourines. "Coyote Enchantment" runs a bit on the monotonous side, thanks in large part to the repetition of the word "coyote." It's hardly a boring song, managing to be entertaining enough thanks to a warbling, hair metal-esque riff.
While I -- perhaps along with other Phoenix fans of Miniature Tigers -- would have loved Fortress to have been released while the band still called Arizona home, I can't help but just be proud that the band released something so strong and polished regardless of where they currently live. If it took moving to Brooklyn to accomplish this, then the band is hardly at fault. Miniature Tigers have something pretty remarkable set in place, and Arizona fans can take some solace in the fact that they are free to say "I remember when they were still kicking around in Phoenix" and beam with the pride of a mother whose child just went off to their first day of kindergarten.
Especially if that same child came home later that day with the most amazing finger painting you have ever seen.