On Cutting Ti-Gers in Half and Understanding Narravation
re there still people who go ape when indie bands go major? Records like Plans and Return to Cookie Mountain used to be vilified on principle, but they went by with nary a peep and I expect the same from The Crane Wife. I’d like to believe that fans are more comfortable with their faves getting three hots and a cot on tours, but it's probably that the transition isn't all that jarring anymore. Regardless of what's on the CD spine, a great deal of indie acts are making epic records, every bit as glossy and exquisitely produced as anything the Big Five can pump out.
Whether intentionally or not, a lot of hyped newcomers are cutting against this trend. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Tapes 'n' Tapes, and Beirut may not be alike in sound, but they are in spirit, channeling the scuffed, imperfect recordings of '90s indie, Pavement before they got Nigel Godrich's phone number. Add Tampa threesome Candy Bars to this list. Though based on a solid foundation of tuneful, imagistic songs, On Cutting Ti-Gers in Half and Understanding Narravation is tied together by a hazy, mysterious sound that couldn't have been made on a major's dime and sounds all the better for it.
We're not getting past the inevitable candy bar simile here, so let's just call them conceptual nougat; dark and sweet, at times impenetrable, and when you're in the mood for it, not much else will do. But in practice, On Cutting… is more like a sandstorm, enveloping, equal parts grit and vapor. At the eye are the heavily processed vocals of Daniel Martinez. Flecked with distortion and often double-tracked, they resemble a panicked walkie-talkie transmission from Jeremy Enigk. The Beach Boys homage of "Violets" finds him waking up to sleigh bells in a cold sweat and it fits the fevered, near hallucinogenic imagery that follows its own logic. It avoids freak-folk's forays into dippy, flower child and unicorn fantasies, but it's in a similar vein: parents are vicious sea animals, reel-to-reels of wolves play on the radio, friends are horses, and winter is a cathedral.
Behind him, a swirl of acoustic guitars and sundry other bells and whistles take him down the dustier paths that Mercury Rev once tread. The carefully considered tempos might inspire cries of "give the drummer some…REALLY!," but On Cutting… is never ponderous. "Landscape" and "Works Cited" subtly reveal themselves as slo-mo lighter wavers, as their lightly strummed intros give way to anthemic chords progressions. Candy Bars almost rival The Walkmen in their ability to turn down-tempo restraint into virtuous grandeur, but on the nearly feral screams on the chorus of "The Birthday Song," Martinez shows he knows when to let it rip.
Candy Bars probably won't make the kind of impact of the aforementioned indie darlings. Not yet, at least. It's so consistent that one can drift off in the lazy river ebb, but you'll always wake up somewhere beautiful and familiar. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better album to get to know for this time of year.