By Tiger Shadow
Hearing one track by Tiger Shadow tugged the Indie/Folk/Americana blankey clean from my grasp and left me cuddling up to - for me - an unfamiliar side to Leeds' music scene. Time now to articulate a week spent listening to "The Adventures of the Tiger Shadow" which given the lyrical mastery on this their latest album, my words will no doubt fall short of the puissance of Komla's words or Jim's compositions. I'll give it a go, all the same.
Blazing the trail of intelligent, alternative hip-hop; Tiger Shadow produce stark sonic textures with relevant, knowing rhymes, wrapped in a citric-fresh soul. The result is a peerlessly authentic and potent sound where engaging production and striking compositions knock you back, forth and sideways into unknown territory with unyielding frequency throughout the whole album. It's unusual I hear so many fresh elements in one place but the scope of originality on show here is unmatched and quite possibly unmatchable.
It's hard to summarise the sound of Tiger Shadow with a few snappy lines on each song but equally tricky to decide which of the 18 tracks to omit from the review. I'm conscious that writing a blow by blow would take longer to read than it would to hear the album, so instead I'll pick a few and throw some observations your way and hope it does enough to make you want to listen - without selling this amazing album short.
The spiritual, sinister keys and strings that kick-off the album on "Oh no, overflow!" drop you in another world and the chanting vocals add to the tension before the crisp, rewarding beat drops. The break sees a shift which adds weight to the overall structure; this isn't just quick, punchy bass and beats stuff; there is carefully produced skill on show here. I love the honesty of the lines "We want more people to hear our art and soul...we don't want to be obscure." It's a great sentiment and one I share; more people need to hear this music and obscurity at any level is criminal.
My introduction to Tiger Shadow was hearing "Tried and Tested" and it's still the first track I put on when I listen to the album. The punching, almost military drums below brilliant chords combine to produce something devastatingly funky that douses the senses with nostalgia and spits originality in your face. Everything works to such great effect here to create some seriously uplifting emotions and the chorus itself is positively life-affirming. If it isn't already, I'm guessing this will be pounding away in their sets during the summer months. It's a beautiful beast of elation and perfectly showcases the Tiger Shadow sound in little over 3 minutes.
One major element on the album that grabs my attention is the balance between light and dark, not just in the subject of the songs but through the music itself; often through playful keys or uplifting strings set against the depth of the bass or brooding strings. The bass is often the main accompaniment to Komla's intelligent lyrics and to stomach rumbling effect but it's when there's a mixture of this together with more accessible touches of light that blends together their evident dub heritage with hip-hop and (generically speaking) dance music sensibilities that the music shines at its brightest. "Red all over", "Monsoon too soon" and "Locomotion" are probably the best examples of this that spring to mind whereas the almost jungle beat of "Helter Swelter" reveals another side to their background.
"Monsoon too soon" as it goes, is one of only two places where I was reminded of contemporary artists, in this case, specifically K'Naan's brilliant "What's Hardcore" but that may be down to the sublime wordplay and reference to Komla's country of birth - which is something K'Naan's does regularly in his work. "Serene Trampoline" was the only other track that made me think of another song, which perhaps more obviously this time, was Mint Royale's "Show Me". (No, don't think that "Singing in the rain" nonsense and dismiss the comparison - they also produced some amazing music!)
If you like it dark, dirty and irrepressibly sinister then you should try "Don't be scared" which has some of the best lyrics on the whole album. Modern references aplenty, the world is painted as a dark place with genuine threats but Komla offers hope against the bravado of youth, gang culture, bark-but-no-bite boys and "marching powder" fuelled antagonists. One more stand-out track from the album for me is "What were they thinking". Haunting, atmospheric strings and effects in the intro last for one perfect minute until the moment the tune opens up completely. There is a similar chant-like quality to the chorus as there is in "Tried and tested" and the same carefully dispensed dub-rumble and smart synths again embellish this to full effect.
The sense of self and living a life of purpose is abundant on the album. "Tonight Matthew, I'm going to be myself" - a brilliant line taken from "Prepare Thyself" epitomises this with a simple effectiveness. "Standard response" reminds us about the impact heroes can have but the importance of reaching out for originality over imitation. "Abject Happiness" tackles a similar theme and warns of the fickle and temporary distraction of losing yourself in a culture that's ultimately unrewarding unless you choose a positive path. Tiger Shadow are always careful not to paint a picture too dark though and for all the darker sides to life there is hope, resistance and a fight back. Another brilliant line I keep catching is from "Hippo Electric" where a well-known adage gets reworked to "the bigger they come, the harder they fall". Brilliant! All of which brings me kindly to "Bright & gloomy", the penultimate track on the album and the very definition of what this album is about. "We've had it up to here, don't want the blood, sweat and tears" tells of an alternative to falling by the wayside in your own life and shows how much Tiger Shadow value life, their music and their ability to give off a positive message to anyone prepared to listen.
It's been a while in the writing but I didn't want to tackle something so outside of my customary box, rush it and do it a disservice. Hopefully that's been averted here and that's my part in helping to spread the word of "Leeds' finest" played. It's your turn now. Click like on their Faceboook page, try a few tracks out, order the album on I-Tunes, go and see them play live and get your head into the excellent "Adventures of Tiger Shadow".