Jul 06, 2021
By Gareth O’Malley
The “difficult second album” tagline has been done to death, but there’s no denying that UK trio Tigercub went through the wringer to craft the follow-up to its 2016 debut LP, Abstract Figures in the Dark. 2017 EP Evolve Or Die found the Brighton band doubling down on the abrasive facets of its sound, a clear stepping stone toward an eventual second album—but it resulted instead in an unofficial hiatus. Band leader Jamie Hall unexpectedly struck gold with a psych-pop side project called NANCY, releasing a mini-album in January. By then, plans for Tigercub’s return were well underway, and that second album was in the can.
Even a temporary split with drummer James Allix amid fraught recording sessions—which played out against the backdrop of the UK going into lockdown in March of last year—couldn’t derail the trio (completed by bassist Jimi Wheelwright), as they barreled through 17-hour recording sessions over a fortnight to get what would become As Blue As Indigo over the line. The bizarre and frankly terrifying circumstances surrounding its creation notwithstanding—Hall says he “definitely let [his] imagination run and start to catastrophize as if it was 28 Days Later or something”—the band’s long-awaited second album is a remarkably intense affair, a full-blooded rock record matched in its musical heaviness by its unflinching lyrical content.
Hall’s work as NANCY drew back the veil from the writing perspective he’d chosen on Abstract Figures, in favor of nakedly personal missives that bordered on voyeuristic listening, and Tigercub’s return is coloured by a similarly hard-hitting narrative. Hall has grown to be open about his struggles with mental illness, and the dual meaning of the album’s title should give prospective listeners an idea of what to expect—though inspired by color theory, the band took equal inspiration from its frontman’s battle with his own mind, pored over in sometimes excruciating detail. “Blue Mist in My Head” gets straight to the point as Allix’s drumming holds together a song that’s liable to fall apart at any moment. “I just wanna be real,” Hall pleads, desperation audible in his voice, “sadness holds me hostage when you’re near.”
The title track shifts between uneasy verses and a searing riff that functions as a chorus, as tension builds to a fever pitch over three minutes. As the opener, it serves as the ideal reintroduction to the band, and while some aspects of the Tigercub we know are accounted for—doubling down on intensity on “Sleepwalker” (an example of the band at its heaviest) and lending “Beauty” just enough swagger that the loneliness expressed in its lyrics isn’t all that apparent on initial listens—their new record is much more interested in breaking new ground, refining the trio’s cavernous sound in doing so. In its explorations of living with anxiety, perhaps the direct lyrical approach means that the explosive “Stop Beating on My Heart (Like a Bass Drum)” couldn’t have fit on its predecessor, but it works damn well as an update of Tigercub’s established modus operandi.
The genesis of the album lies in a false-start attempt at LP2, in which the band tried to reshape themselves as a pop band shooting for stadia. It was eventually scrapped, as Hall wasn’t about to abandon their rock-driven sound in a hurry, but traces of it are audible here and there as the band tests its limits, with greater risks taken than before. “As Long as You’re Next to Me” dials back the band’s trademark distortion while filling the gaps with a crystal clear melody, before delivering the expected guitar crunch midway through with a juddering solo which also acts as a secondary hook. “Funeral,” meanwhile, pulls the rug out from under the listener with disarming tenderness, mournful strings accompanying Hall’s quavering, dejected vocal as he laments the loss of his grandmother. About three minutes in, everything drops out bar those strings, a moment as likely to induce tears as it is goosebumps. “Built to Fail” is similarly elegiac in its tribute to a friend lost to suicide, before switching gears midway through as the full band enters in earnest and it takes flight.
Throughout the album’s 10 songs, there is a distinct sense that this is a far more ambitious band than the Tigercub of five years ago. Of course they put it together amidst the uncertainty and panic of March 2020—in hindsight, those were the only circumstances in which it made sense. Closing with “In the Autumn of My Years,” which repurposes the chorus melody of “Sleepwalker” and the lyrical motifs of the title track as a way of providing bookends, the album ends as it began—in a kaleidoscopic display of powerful catharsis. As Blue As Indigo harnesses white-knuckle intensity and anguish, and in doing so paints a vivid picture—it asks a lot of the listener, but is richly rewarding in return; a painful snapshot of mental illness and survival that is every bit as colourful as you might expect, and likely one of the best rock albums of the year thus far. (www.tigercubtigercub.com)
Author rating: 8/10
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