Complicated music can be fascinating. Prog rock of the ’70s begat math rock in the mid-90s emo scene, with pulsing drums and obscure Middle Eastern guitar modes mixing into a composition major’s wet dream. There aren’t many mainstream bands that still practice this genre (maybe early Muse or Battles), but enter TTNG (formerly This Town Needs Guns). Their sophomore album, 126.96.36.199.0, sounds like Dismemberment Plan-era theatrics in the best way, but its smooth weather erodes the interesting edges.
TTNG’s sound owes everything to the Collis brothers’ absolute refusal to follow the rules. Tim Collis’ picking style is dizzying and inventive. From the first sliding lines of “Cat Fantastic”, which is a dead ringer for Dismemberment Plan’s “The City”, Tim never lets the guitar stop moving. It rises and dive-bombs like a feather in the wind. This is coupled with drummer Chris Collis, who holds things snare-drum taut. Even the simpler “2 Birds, 1 Stone, and An Empty Stomach”, with its beautiful acoustic lines, has a mesmerizing stop/start feel.
Singer Henry Tremain gives the songs a levity that saves them from being bogged down by technicality. His crisp tenor pops against the background, but it lacks the edge desperately needed on the album. This is the rub with most math rock: There’s an absence of detectable passion. While Tremain’s vocals add a smooth layer, things are too smooth. There isn’t the passion of Travis Morrison that could upgrade this album to something bolder. The guitar lines are too clean, the drums too halting; emotion is lost under a sheen that leaves a desire for distortion or a slipped finger. 188.8.131.52.0 is a solid album with beautiful moments, but in the end, it lacks the grit that could push TTNG higher.
Essential Tracks: “Cat Fantastic”, “2 Birds, 1 Stone, and An Empty Stomach”