After three smashing untitled EPs, London three-piece Three Trapped Tigers finally get round to releasing their, in some circles anyway, long-awaited and much anticipated debut full length Route One Or Die. Led by classically influenced pianist Tom Rogerson there’s a danger that this record could have paled into insignificance next to the release of Battles’ forthcoming Gloss Drop (the band that you could best compare TTT to), but this is a record you’d be a fool to write off.
Trying to explain the sound of Three Trapped Tigers to someone who has no previous experience of the band is tricky. Okay, so it’s IDM with a bit of Aphex Twin, it’s a bit metal and math rock, a bit Don Caballero jazzy, with shredding guitars, and the drumming is up there with John Stanier’s work in Helmet and Battles. Album opener ‘Cramm’ sets out the TTT stall quickly, floating in on electronica before adding ridiculously tricksy and brilliant drumming (Adam Betts is a beast behind the kit throughout the record) and similarly complicated – yet still exhilirating – guitar work from Matt Calvert. ‘Noise Trade’ follows this pattern, ghostly keyboards giving way to full-on metal riffing and 100mph beats. This approach doesn’t always work, however, with ‘Creepies’ being on the verge of unlistenable noise rock, the combination of detuned keys and guitars, alongside unpalatable electro squelches droning on for over five minutes isn’t exactly my idea of a good time.
‘Ulnastricter’ shows the band can take it easy too, and sounds a lot like the underrated Norwegian experimentalists Jaga Jazzist. It threatens to build to a rave-y crescendo, and when it finally does it’s worth the wait. When all the elements work together on Route One Or Die it’s an absolute rush and shows why there’s so much chatter about having to see their live show. ‘Zil’ is another quieter track, all piano and electric piano minor chords backed by odd industrial clanging in the background. It’s a lovely interlude from the breakneck pace, and shows off Rogerson’s neo-classical piano playing beautifully. As much as the louder tracks can cause a thrill, when TTT ease off the accelerator just a bit it allows breathing space for Rogerson’s compositions to come to life, and also allows the listener to hear those glitchy, icy layers free from the rest of the pounding that surrounds the other tracks.
It’s only a short lull until ‘Drebin’ (where do they get these names from? Shoulda kept the tracks untitled, fellas) kicks in, all complex math rock syncopation and power drumming, and it’s one of the high points of the album. Penultimate track ‘Magne’ starts off as intruiging dubby electro but ends up a meandering disappointment, but thankfully Route One Or Die ends on a high point with the shimmering yet menacing ‘Reset’.
At times, this album is an unstoppable juggernaut powered by Adam Betts’ drums and Rogerson and Calvert’s clever interplay, but there’s also periods where I found my attention wavering slightly as the tricksy playing simply wandered away from the areas marked off as “listenable”. However, Route One Or Die has music that’s both cerebral and emotional – a rare thing, sometimes – and it gives the listener just a hint of an idea as to why these guys are such a thrilling live experience. If they can bottle even more of that energy, then what’s stopping them from getting better and better?