Something funny happen while every blog and fan prematurely buried Tigers Jaw – the Scranton, PA quintet-turned-duo recorded their best material yet. On some March afternoon last year, the band released a statement regarding the departure of three members and the immediate cancellation of Tigers Jaw upcoming North American tour. Because the announcement came out of nowhere and gave very little details on the present or future status of the band, many assumed it was the end. Instead Brianna Collins and Ben Walsh decided to carry on. And with a little help from their former bandmates (Pat Brier, Dennis Mishko, and Adam McIlwee) and producer Will Yip, the end result of this strange journey being Charmer, Tigers Jaw fourth full-length and most well-rounded album to date.
Despite being titled Charmer, LP4 is anything but. Lyrically, a lot of it is a cynical bummer. During the opening guitar blast of “Cool,” McIlwee casually declares that “it’s a cruel world but it’s cool” before realizing the reason might just be him on the booming “Slow Come On” (“Why am I so cruel?/Why am I so mean?”). McIlwee bares each and every of his poor intentions, as the former frontman undoubtedly leaves his imprint on his final Tigers Jaw record. Walsh joins the dispirited party on the fiery in-your-face clash of “Frame You” (“And I started this fire and I watched it burn to the ground”).
The remaining Tigers Jaw members shine brightest on the gorgeously bleak “Hum” and the somber beauty of “Teen Rocket”. The former features Collins taking the lead, her ethereal voice recounting the pain of the past (“Well maybe I am the liar, and there is nothing that is left for us. You are a permanent scar”). The despondent “Teen Rocket” slowly builds into an earnest, cathartic release from Walsh in final minute or so, culminating in one of Tigers Jaw’s finest moments and a testament to the vocal chemistry between Collins and Walsh.
Musically, Charmer is the natural progression from Two Worlds, leaving even more of the pop-punk sound behind and unleashing louder, fuzzier guitar riffs, simmering synth, and just the right amount of melodic detachment. Songs like “Frame You” and the slow-burning title track embody this, while the “I Envy Your Apathy” (featuring Brier on lead vocals) and the deceptively powerful “Nervous Kids” take the album to another level previous Tigers Jaw releases could never imagine. “Nervous Kids” in particular establishes the band’s keen ear for top-quality pop hooks while maintaining the raw, emotional intensity Tigers Jaw’s known for (the Twin Peaks references don’t hurt either).
Some of Charmer’s most vibrant moments come in the album’s second half. The aforementioned “Slow Come On” is a vigorous number paced by a seemingly never-ending burst of Brier drum-rolls along with McIlwee’s urgent vocals. That standout along with the re-recorded “Distress Signal” alleviate some of strain built up by the meandering “Slow Divide” and the cheerless “Soft Spoken” (its overall melancholy betrayed by Brier’s upbeat drumming).
Even with a newly-released album and an upcoming tour with Touché Amoré, many still want to speculate on the future of the band. I’m not here to that; rather I’d advise fans new and old to not fret over it and dive headfirst into the anti-romanticism of Charmer instead, along with catching the band on the aforementioned tour. Whether this is the end or not doesn’t matter, as Collins and Walsh are approaching everything on their own terms. Instead of falling victim to the swirling rumors of chaos and confusion, Tigers Jaw embraced it with a real if not brutal look at the chaos and confusion of normal, everyday life.