The sophomore LP can present any number of obstacles for even the most surefooted band. Throw in member changes and the equation gets even a bit more fuzzy. But when you’re talking about This Town Needs Guns, the expectations even considering all of that are still present, if not also a tad tremendous. Nevertheless, the U.K. quartet turned power trio has returned with LP #2 in the form of 18.104.22.168.0, a slightly less poppy but arguably more adventurous offering than their previous album Animals. And for what they’ve been through in the years since that release, it’s a more than pleasant surprise that this record not only lives up to such heightened expectations, but completely obliterates them in the process.
Right off the bat, “Cat Fantastic” enforces a high level of musicianship from all three members that is carried quite effortlessly through the rest of the 12 tracks on the disc. Whether it’s ethereal tapping (“Havoc in the Forum”), free-flowing meters of strange proportions (“Triptych”) or the gorgeous chemistry of all involved (“Left Aligned”), it is simply astonishing at times what This Town Needs Guns can do. The tempos here fall a bit on the less pushing side, as the slower, acoustic lushness of “2 Birds, 1 Stone and an Empty Stomach” or the mid-tempo pulsing of “+3 Awesomeness Repels Water” feel just as good to the ears as earlier TTNG cuts that invoked more dancing than an actual vibe.
As much as there is to say about the guitars though – they are arguably the most noticeable of the instruments in terms of such musicianship – the rhythm section ought not to be overlooked. “+3 Awesomeness Repels Water” in particular is a drumming clinic in itself at times, while the anchoring of such wavering guitar leads in “Left Aligned” can only be attributed to a strong presence of bass and off-kilter drumming to give it some kind of resemblance of a skeleton at times.
That isn’t to say this entire album is one giant jam-off. It would be naive to say such a thing, as the melodies, both vocal and instrumental, have a simply endearing quality in the overall texture and vibe of 22.214.171.124.0. Vocalist and bassist Henry Tremain’s often mid-range croon meshes smoothly with the strums and taps of songs like “Cat Fantastic” while his upper notes (“2 Birds, 1 Stone and an Empty Stomach”) aren’t quite as powerful but make up for it in restrained beauty. The interlude tracks make for an interesting addition to the album’s flow as well. I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest an overlying arc to things, save for the ending track being named “126.96.36.199.1,” but such placeholders give off a hint of the experimental without attempting to pin vocals on passages founded in electronics, bristled distortion or plucked acoustic guitars. They probably aren’t necessary to the progression of the album, but in certain cases (“Pygmy Polygamy”) they give a chance to settle things down in what can sometimes be an aurally overwhelming experience for the listener.
In all honesty, Animals was a strong first outing as far as a full-length is concerned. And for how they’ve progressed up to and past that album, 188.8.131.52.0 takes a rather bold step towards bridging technicality and tenaciously catchy tunes. As a whole, this record is arguably the best thing they’ve done to date, putting This Town Needs Guns’ second LP easily into the upper echelon of releases for 2013.