The road to Tigers Jaw’s fourth full-length has certainly been an interesting one. The past year has been shrouded in confusion and doubt, mired by uncertainty and miscommunication. But from amid the chorus of “Wait, are they still a band?” rose Charmer, the visceral, brooding swansong of one incarnation of the band and the commencement of another. It’s a swirling sea of cynicism, gloomy and unrelenting, and represents the band’s strongest offering to date.
The aforementioned confusion on the status of Tigers Jaw stemmed from statements last year regarding the future of the band. Once the miscommunication was sorted out, the facts remained: Pat Brier, Dennis Mishko, and Adam McIlwee were no longer in the band, leaving Brianna Collins and Ben Walsh to carry on the name. But before they departed, all five members would contribute to one final record. And while it is admittedly a strange situation, the final product is something to be marveled at.
Musically, Charmer is a fairly significant departure in sound from the band’s previous efforts. Nearly all traces of their pop-punk past are removed, replaced with a shadowy indie rock vibe. Waves of fuzzed out guitar wash over the listener, occasionally aided by hints of bright synth. The majority of the tracks employ a single, simple riff, repeated throughout with various flairs added in, giving them a cohesive feel, and never allowing themselves to be bogged down.
Opener “Cool” bursts out of the gates as one of the more upbeat cuts, propelled by the incessant pounding of Brier’s drumming, followed by “Frame You”, which employs a soaring and diving synth line that adds to an extra element to the song without becoming overbearing. Then there are the unyielding drum rolls of the abrasive “Slow Come On”, and it’s easy to see that Tigers Jaw hasn’t lost any of their bite. And while the faster, more aggressive tracks are certainly worthy of admiration, the triumph of Charmer is in its more somber moments. “Hum” is one of the best songs the band has ever written, blending hauntingly stunning dual vocals with soft shuffling drums and hazy guitars, while the slow burning build of “Teen Rocket” creates a dream like aura. Charmer possesses a strong variety of sound throughout, but it’s the more understated moments that shine the brightest.
As great as the instrumentation is, the aspects that take center stage and nudge Charmer far beyond its contemporaries are the vocals and lyrics. The vocal delivery, provided at various times from Collins, Walsh, and McIlwee, is the most powerful instrument showcased. There is a beauty in the smooth droning of “It’s a cruel world/But it’s cool” on the opener and the subtle harmonies on album highlight “Hum”. There’s the drowsy slur of the title track and the interplay of male and female vocals on closer “What Would You Do”. The vocals drive home the anguish and cynicism that engulfs Charmer, a record chock-full of jarringly personal moments. “Teen Rocket” utilizes a slow build up of deep introspection before the final cathartic moments of the repeated refrain “Locked up with my thoughts in my head again”. The closer displays crippling self-doubt with lines like “I know that I’m the tamest of boys/Why else would my voice be so soft/I feel you’re something/I feel your sympathy/I don’t feel anything at all”. This record is as emotional as we have seen this year, in a very personal way. You can feel the passion that the band has put into Charmer, every ounce of pain, doubt, snark, and anger. And it becomes glaringly obvious that this is Tigers Jaw at their peak.
Charmer is a chilling album, but in the most beautiful way. It feels detached, and aloof, but relatable. It is the doubt and discomfort that we all feel at some point. It is layer upon layer of introspection, wrapped in a swooning indie rock sound that suits the band impeccably. What the future holds for Tigers Jaw is not immediately certain, but it is not important. What is important is the present. And right now, Tigers Jaw has given us a stunning, personal gem of a record.