Those who swoon in disgust at the multi-tentacled dish that is musical complexity may want to stop reading now. One man’s gustatory faux pas is another man’s delicacy. It takes a certain palate to appreciate the incessant tempo shifts and charging guitar twinkles of TTNG (formerly known as This Town Needs Guns). Like a fine wine, TTNG’s math rock revolution has only enriched with age. And man, does it have some kick.
Math rock features asymmetrical time signatures such as 7/8, 11/8, or 13/8, or employs constantly shifting meters. Thus, math rock uses much more complex timing than rock music’s typical 4/4 signature. This “mathematical” rhythmic intricacy is what gives the genre its name. Composer Dave Brubeck certainly would approve.
TTNG’s first full-length album, the aptly named “Animals,” shocked the underground music scene with Stuart Smith’s eternally off-key vocals and the Collis brothers’ incredibly complex math guitar and drums. The album never received widespread praise or fame, but something about this band finds a place in the brain and refuses to leave.
Their sophomore album, “18.104.22.168.0,” is a fresh start for the Oxfordtrio. Having replaced Smith, their often-criticized lead singer, with Pennines’ Henry Tremain, the band’s vocals have evolved while still keeping their characteristic sound.
“22.214.171.124.0” derives its name from Mayan prophecy, the idea that the world truly begins once 13 b’ak’tuns (stages of 144,000 days each) have passed. Arriving right after the Mayan prophecy of 2012 proved false, TTNG’s newest album promises a musical revival, and delivers just that.
The opening track and first single, “Cat Fantastic,” immediately shows off Tremain’s vocal mastery. His soothing lyrics mesh beautifully with Tim Collis’ cascading guitar riffs to create something new, yet still familiar.
My ears didn’t know how to react upon first listen. It’s as if the musical gods took the old TTNG sound and boosted the positives while removing the negatives.
The TTNG of 2009’s “Animals” clearly emphasized instrumental complexity. Their new work highlights melody and lets lyricism drive the song. Tim’s old work would at times seem lost in its own intricacy; it was all over the place.
Tim seems to have realized that complexity, while impressive, doesn’t make good music. He has learned to grab hold of the reins and reel in his controversial style, crafting gorgeous, memorable guitar hooks.
Chris Collis also breaks from his normal rhythmic spontaneity with “I’ll Take the Minute Snake” by sticking to a single, bass-heavy beat for the majority of the song. However, the band shows its timing complexity here, breaking into triplets.
Songs like “A Different Kind of Tall (Small)” let Chris explore his creativity and spontaneity on the skins, while allowing Tim to shine with a gorgeous, catchy guitar hook towards the end.
TTNG emerges from its four-year absence not just with a new singer, but also with a whole new musical formula. “126.96.36.199.0” will undoubtedly strike the connoisseur’s fancy, as the Oxford crew got the taste just right this time.
If you’re still reading this, go listen to the album and judge for yourself.