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Mary TimonyUntame the Tiger

With Mary Timony, the steadying groove—rhythmic guitar wizardry usually, keyboard or piano legerdemain on occasion—was always, secretly, the point. And this point became more plain as the years passed, the former Helium frontwoman’s confidence blossomed, and projects and genre segues and LPs came and went. The words and their inflections matter, of course: see the billowy, dosed “Honeycomb” from 1995; the fed-up, lovesick “Blood Tree” from 2002; the raucous, whoa-oh-oh ribbed “Waterfall” from 2014; or any lead vocal Timony sang lead as one quarter of the short-lived Wild Flag. Yet it’s her honed hooks and melodies, sturdy and sticky and often madrigal, that really sell the accompanying cryptic symbology, mystical imagery, and uptempo, side-eyed melodramas (usually in “advance track” slots). 

Untame the Tiger was recorded while Timony served as the primary caregiver for her parents, who have since passed away. The surprise here is less that an album about emerging, stronger, from sorrow’s all-encompassing shroud somehow goes down like a goblet of spiked sunshine. The surprise lies more in how much more emotional power the guitarwork—fluid, generous, measured—brings to bear, how much weight it carries this time. “The Dream” is a dizzying constellation of hypnotic, ascending chords and stratospheric haze. A bluesy, sinuous ode to (a personified idea of) loneliness, “The Guest” finds comfort in the most unlikely of places, appending languid, blissed-out solos: solitude as oasis. The title track fakes us out with strummed, echoing grandeur before sliding into impeccable country-rock choogle and stately, epic riff clouds.

Kicky lead single “Dominoes” might be the starkest example of Tiger’s florid, welcome approach to vocal production, where Timony, who is backed by other singers elsewhere on the album, is multiplied into a chorus of herself. This is the nearest she’s come to the B-52’s polyharmonic intimacy, and it’s irresistible. “Give me the life, give me the love / Give me the answer to the question of,” she sings, to us and to her selves—a seeker well down a path we’re all bound to wander, sooner or later. – GRADE: A

You can check out Untame the Tiger at Bandcamp and elsewhere.  

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