The idea of a summer record invokes for most people thoughts of an album such as New Found Glory’s Sticks and Stones, The Beach Boys’ Sounds of Summer, or who knows… maybe Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up The Sun” is the only smooth jam on your iPod “summer love” playlist. Either way, when sound waves and heat waves collide it’s the fair-weather combination of energetic melodies, warm tones, and lifting progressions that we love to turn up while we roll the windows down. This being the case, As Tall As Lions’ self-titled full length, in all its murky, ambient glory, would appear very much a fish out of water as an early August release. Who’s the genius over at Triple Crown who thought we would take Head Automatica, Gym Class Heroes, and Hellogoobye out of our stereo for this semi-challenging, mostly somber, and generally soft-tempo collection of songs? Well, whoever he or she is, they deserve a promotion, for As Tall As Lions is perhaps the most awesomely anti-summer album of all time.
At the core, this record is a composite of rich textures and a mesmerizing groove that to me evokes the image and feeling of moonlight piercing fog. Not to get overly metaphorical here but that is my physical manifestation of the silky and sensuous but also lurid and ghostly vibe which pervades this disc. All you need do is press play on track one and suddenly my comparison won’t seem so far fetched. What sounds like wind chimes being stirred by a breeze meets eerie guitar sounds to introduce the one man vocal powerhouse that is Dan Nigro, and a rhythmically plucked acoustic guitar to hint at the song’s (and more or less the album’s) swaying trajectory. This record will haunt you and move you from start to finish, and I say that in only the most positive way.
Nigro is the inevitable MVP of this group. For someone with no formal vocal training, it is nothing short of miraculous that the boy can perform as he does. Whether whispering like a ghost from beyond the grave or wailing like a banshee on fire, Dan maintains an ear-pleasing vibrato and his uniquely jazzy vocal tone. He is an incredible asset to the group and his singing on this record is as much an instrument as the guitar and drums. And still, the musicianship that lies beneath the voice is equally impressive. For instance, the offbeat piano chords and gigantic rock-out-worthy chorus of “Stab City,” the tranquil flutter and then wrenching bridge of “Milk and Honey,” the whimsically heart-breaking balladry of “I’m Kicking Myself,” or the Coldplay-like elegance and soaring heights of “Maybe I’m Just Tired.” As Tall As Lions have redefined the word crescendo, and when they buildup and breakdown, so will you.
The record is chock full of highlight moments such as those above, which is very much a testament to the superb tracking and solidity of every song. For those that think the record starts strong, you should hear how it ends! The last four or five songs are an intransigent tour-de-force that guarantee a lasting impact.
As Tall As Lions can soar like U2, groove like Days Away, get as technical as Gatsby’s American Dream, rock out like Brand New, experiment like The Mars Volta, and even emote like Damien Rice. Seamlessly streamlining these qualities, the band has turned out a surprisingly adult, grown-up, complete, hypnotic, entrancing, brave, and layered sophomore effort with lasting appeal to boot. I’m just about out of adjectives, but please don’t miss one of the best that 2006 has to offer. It requires more than a single listen to truly consume and digest the songwriting which at first might seem to blend, but all efforts will be handsomely rewarded, and soon each track becomes distinct. Even summer sometimes succumbs to rainfall, nighttime, and gloom, and this record soundtracks those darker times, when sunshine gives way to the moonlight and the fog.
“Sing into the moonlight, who could ask for more?”
-As Tall As Lions - "Song for Luna"