Man! Is there anything better in the world of pop music than watching an outsider break into the charts? For fans of Trampled By Turtles it is the best of times. As opposed to hotshot upstarts fueled by nothing more than preferable location, buzz, and dumb haircuts TBT proves there is justice in this world, that hard work through relentless touring and dedication to a style of music that has never been truly popular can and will pay off. The newest album Wild Animals also provides a great big “I told you so!” for a loyal fanbase that has stuck by the group through the implosion of so many genre bubbles.
After a decade of toil crafting tightly wound, explosively exuberant blue grass gems far removed from the bright city lights of Brooklyn, Austin, or Nashville Trampled By Turtles finally got national exposure and a very respectable charting position with their last release Stars and Satellites. As far as art is concerned that success is the equivalent of the American dream. From obscurity to alphabet soup network talk show darlings over the space of a single album (their seventh) the group’s career trajectory is shooting skyward, registering like a heat seeking missile on the national radar for the highly anticipated Wild Animals.
For the fans, those who’ve been heralding TBT’s triumph for years, and for those about to get sucked under by the melodious string majesty and bone jarring lyrical weight of Wild Animals the new album will prove a departure from expectations. Oh sure, all the favorite hallmarks are still there. Ryan Young’s flawless fiddle work still serves as backbone to the musical muscle of a truly talented band. He’s proving himself on par with tomorrow’s fiddle legends, Andrew Bird, Ketch Secor, and Ross Holmes (Mumford & Sons). And much like previous albums the track listing careens like a toddler or raging bipolar drunk between the pathos of the distressed and depressed dirge to ecstatic joy at a moment’s notice. It’s a departure sure, but one that will doubtlessly exceed all expectations.
The boys from Duluth took a short trip south to the woods of Cannon Falls Minnesota to record Wild Animals at the legendary Pachyderm Studios. While the name might not register with most casual music fans, aficionados will recognize Pachyderm as the studio that produced ‘In Utero,’ by Nirvana among many notable others using equipment ripped from Hendrix‘s Electric Lady Studio. Produced by Low‘s Alan Sparhawk, Wild Animals shows more atmosphere and ambiance than previous records. Long noted for their raucous performances, it often feels like TBT attempt to recreate that feeling in the studio. Not so for the new album.
With its high lonesome backing vocals, deliberate layering and desperate vocals the album lead in and titular track sounds closer to a Band of Horse‘s single than TBT narrative. Again, on second track “Hollow,” the audience is greeted by a spacious interweaving of harmony and instrumentation. Great consideration was given to production value, and though the old punk and rock stirrings become evident deeper into the album the new direction fits nicely into an already stellar discography’s canon. Outside of synth and ‘la la love you’ lyrics it seems there’s no direction Trampled By Turtles can’t do well.
The first half of the album is meant to display maturity of material for a group transitioning into what will likely be mainstream endorsement. Like Eddie Vedder sang back in the nineties, “it’s evolution baby.” That doesn’t mean there’s no teeth to the album, as the name would imply Wild Animals is by turns beautiful and removed from the contrivances of the digital age, but none the less fierce. If you’re worried the boys’ wild licks have gone soft with age “Come Back Home” or the bitingly critical “Western World” will put to rest any fear through swelling crescendos via Erik Berry’s sinister mando work and Dave Carroll’s breakneck banjo picking.
As always, David Simonet has a way with words. This is a lyricist who writes from the bottom of his bones. When he sings about blood you can feel it under your nails, and when that old regret surfaces one can’t help but shudder with the commiseration, ‘yeah I been there.’ In a lesser songwriter the universal themes employed by Simonet come off as cliches or sappy sentimental drivel, but the vocal delivery and listless effort make his lyrics felt with the white hot pang of despair. As displayed on Stars and Satellites it is a brave man who can consider death without the compulsive inclusion of ego. Wild Animals is a relent from that album, like the first gray streaks of dawn after the long tunnel of night there is a faint but detectable signal of both hope and joy.
Releasing today on Thirty Tigers in collusion with a performance of album single “Are You Behind the Shining Star” on Letterman, Trampled By Turtles’ Wild Animals is mandatory summer listening for any fan of country, blue grass, rock or pop.