Screeching, yearning shouts over cascading drum hits and meaty chords will always have a place to go home to. There is something warm and familiar about a voice that is straining, truly trying, to make its words heard. When timed with the downbeat of a bass drum hit, a crash cymbal and a heavily distorted chord, calculated abrasion can melt into friendly camaraderie. In the almost comically repetitive sonic landscape that is punk rock circa 2014, forced individuality is gladly overshadowed by well-meaning passion. This proud and endearing aesthetic is the foot that Tiny Empires shove into the door on their debut EP Weird Headspace.
If you’re coming at Weird Headspace with a critical eye, chances are the collaboration between vets of O Pioneers!!! and New Bruises isn’t for you. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t hold up well to criticism, but rather that these six songs aren’t concerned with tact, pomp or anything of the sort. From front to back, the album plays like it is being expressed rather than performed. Experimental guitar lines crash against dynamically bipolar drums, vocals whisper and shout in the same song – it all goes to show that conventional branding and practiced execution don’t make a complete release. Weird Headspace drifts within the space between wired genius and general experimentation, finding a home in calculated disarray and building an identity that is overwhelmingly interesting without ever seeming confusing or random.
Individually the tracks have minds of their own. “Tired Hearts and Livers” is a stuttering shout-along that laments exhaustion of mind and body while its pace slows, only to kick back into a riotous gear when the time is right. “Wide Open Spaces” is the broad, building opener that eerily embodies its lyrics of “Move closer / to the places that you want to be / stop making excuses / just move closer to me.” The compositions are creative, but also appear to be accurately reflective of the musicians’ aesthetic moods. It’s hard to imagine ideas being thrown out in the cutting room floor. Instead, Weird Headspace sounds pushed together – the amalgamation of a series of improvisational sessions.
While there is certainly appeal in a six-song EP that is dynamically exciting, passionately performed and wholly independent of expectations, Tiny Engines struggle to make moments that are truly memorable. It seems natural to have an overall positive reaction to Weird Headspace, but it’s lacking the wow factor that truly great bands draw out of creatively vibrant situations like the one at hand. There’s no doubt that the five are making enjoyable music and putting a lot of soul and effort into doing it. Weird Headspace shows only that they are a step away from putting together full tracks that demand to be heard again.