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By The End Of Tonight - A Tribute To Tigers

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Artist: By The End Of Tonight

Album: A Tribute To Tigers

Label: Temporary Residence

Review date: Apr. 10, 2005

If, as Sufjan Stevens would have us believe, what the water wants is hurricanes, then what the tigers want is thunder. By the End of Tonight's first full length (at half an hour) should be awesome and epic, by turns brooding and ferocious, dizzying and playful and soaring. And it is all those things, deep down, but there's something impossibly irritating standing between it and the majesty it should exude: a kids' drum kit. It's plenty quirky on paper, sure, and a sight to be seen in a live setting, but coming out of your speakers it makes no sense, and it makes no point worth making. This is music that needs a low end, and its completely avoidable lack thereof is far more attention-grabbing than the best of its instrumental tantrums.

Frankly, it's worse that the instrumental tantrums are as good as they are. It's not like BTEOT are onto anything particuarly unique, not for a four-piece post-/math-rock band from Texas (and certainly not for a four-piece post-/math-rock band from Texas on Temporary Residence), but they combine their styles and influences with admirable skill and fervor. There's some Explosions in the Sky in their determined buildups, some Mono in moments of unusual subtlety or conviction, some Mogwai in their erratic quiet-loud shifts. Then there's some Don Caballero (or Ghosts and Vodka, Volta do Mar, that ilk) in their evident love for gleeful, noisy complexity: the guitars shred and screech, or mew and muse; the distortion starts and stops on a dime; the drums are all over the place. The ominous quiet part, the loud part and the coda, the polymetric wankery and the raunchy speed-metal — it's all done nicely, usually within the same song, and if the combination seems a bit haphazard, it's certainly forgivable (either because the individual parts are good enough or because everyone else does it).

So it's all the more exasperating that none of it sounds like it should. The drums are the most prominent part of the mix — and understandably, given Jeff Wilson's impressive talents (quick with an evocative fill, insane with the double kick pedal, etc.) — but they only draw attention to how reed-thin, trebly and just plain silly the rhythm section sounds. This isn't to say there aren't moments that merit enjoyment on their own: the softer bookends of "Tigers," are nice, as is the sweet tension that opens "4's, 5's, and the Piano That Never Made It Home." But these moments are only pleasant by default, because their gathering clouds are only temporarily acceptable and only serve to weaken the climaxes even more. This is not an esoteric audiophile's criticism, mind you; it should be painfully evident to the most disinterested of ears the extent to which BTEOT call on inexplicable gimmick at the expense of sound.

Nobody really complained when they used the same formula on last fall's Fireworks On Ice EP, which sounded like a particularly ferocious and virtuosic metal concert through shitty speakers with no bottom end. And yes, it was charming in its own kitschy way, but A Tribute To Tigers is too sophisticated and patient, too self-sufficient for the band to stay in such a dismissible, amateurish niche. The problem isn't that it was recorded for $300 and sounds like it — a fact that, like their toddler kit, the band and their promoters seem awfully proud of. The problem is that those two things make what could easily be one of the best instrumental rock albums of the year sound thoroughly inconsequential, and often a pain to even listen to. The problem is that BTEOT have good instincts and better execution, both melodically and technically, and they're all but ruined by an extrinsic quirk. Or maybe the title says it best: this album could've been its own damn tiger. Instead, it's just a tribute.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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