The intricate details and arrangements aren’t forced on the listener here; it’s very possible to listen casually and only hear some stately, beautiful, mid-tempo indie tunes. The songs are much more than that, but those who don’t enjoy seeking out the layers of composition may just hear a big wash of sound.
Then again, if you’re into aural tidal waves, you’ll love “Tamer Animals” for different reasons than I. The moods of each piece hang together, creating an album that feels very much all of one piece. From the pulsing horns of opener “Dark Horse” to the gently galloping rhythms of “For 12” to the closing string elegy “Heading East,”a sense of calm, stately wonder at the state of things is invoked.
At the center of the sound is Jesse Tabish’s ghostly, mournful voice, evoking emotions enhanced by the intricate instrumentation. Strings swoop in and out, while thoughtfully chosen percussion is purposefully played. These and other equally important elements lurk just below the top level of the mix. Tabish spent 14 months crafting these songs in the studio, and thus there is not an spontaneous moment on the record — everything is placed just so.
That’s not to say that there isn’t life or energy to be had; these tracks carry an easy momentum that keeps the experience from becoming a drag. Penultimate track “Landforms” is a good example of both their complex compositions and their ability to wring energy out of those unusual tunes. A thumping tom and jingling sleigh bells pair with pulsing horns (similar to the opener, it all comes back around) to push the track calmly through.
But it’s not all esoteric composer’s moves here. Tabish has a pop side to him, and many of the vocal melodies are accessible. It’s not Ke$ha by any stretch of the imagination, but this isn’t an austere songwriting experiment, either.
On that level, the lush “Tamer Animals” is good at first glance. It’s excellent if you sift through its contents for the surprising and interesting details. Choose your own adventure. —Stephen Carradini