I’m not sure if there’s a Side A that I played through more times this decade than the first five tracks of this housewrecker of an album. Released in 2005 on the tiny Hello Sir Records, Tiger Bear Wolf roars and bucks with an intensity of passion typically unheard-of in rock music–well, ever. Even now, six years removed from its release, I can’t think of another record in the past ten years that’s this sweaty, this muscular, this rockin’. Tiger Bear Wolf is one of the great intellect-killers, the type of rock record the reorders priorities and bloodies a few noses in the process.
The whole thing begins with a roughly-plucked guitar harmonic, a demi-second of beauty before the entire band crashes into “Something Worth Saving” at the same time, slightly out of time with one another but everyone making the same point. Lest you wonder, the thing worth saving is rock ‘n’ roll, which seemed fine before the record began, but as soon as guitarists and co-vocalists Noah Howard and Jonathan Moore have begun trading shouts and riffs and bending their necks into a slow, bashing groove of a bridge, you’ll start wondering what happened to rock ‘n’ roll, and before the answer moves from one of your lobes to the other, they’re already punching their way through “Wrong Lens, Wrong Film”. These guys don’t play their songs–they have their way with them.
Musically-speaking, the Greensboro, NC, foursome come across like Fugazi on a swamp boat, breaking post-punk patterns over their knees and letting the guitars off of their leashes. Guitars skitter over Lawrence Holdsworth’s flittering drum patterns in “Input, Output”, monstrous open chords caught down in kudzu and twisting riffs which eventually curve up and into Muddy Waters’ territory. From the gummy production to the swamped-out rhythms, this is distinctly Southern music, and it embodies all of the things that make the region special: dissonance, emotion, raw power, and a holy sense of purpose–even when they pound so hard that they sound like they’re going to fall apart, Tiger Bear Wolf still push towards some awful, unseen goal. In fact, if there’s any critique of Tiger Bear Wolf, it’s that they go too far; listening to this record the whole way through can be like having your head held under water while being kicked in the shins. That said, sometimes my shins need a good kicking, and my head could usually stand to be dunked–and why worry about coming up for air when the water tastes so good? words/ m. garner