By Russell Warfield
One of the biggest concerns about releasing a bunch of songs which weren’t actually conceived of as a unified LP is whether or not the thing will hang together cohesively. Numbers 1-13, collating the three EPs released over the first years of Three Trapped Tigers’ existence, documents the band’s journey as they honed their skills and developed their deserved reputation as being one of the country’s most exciting post-rock outfits. Of course, the fact that these early tracks are numbered chronologically from one to thirteen gives the record a surface level gloss of continuity from the outset, but thankfully the record’s coherence is far more substantiated than that – showcasing a band coming into recorded existence startlingly well formed, and finding thrilling ways of organically maturing and improving over the course of three high quality EPs.
But to pretend that there isn’t an unevenness to the overall tracklisting would be foolish. Earliest track ‘1’, for example, as arresting and invigorating as its searing guitar riff undoubtedly is, becomes evidence (especially in light of later tracks) of a band who haven’t quite realised their full potential in terms of arrangement, nor entirely worked out how to record themselves – the bombastic guitar riffs shifting to the lighter keyboard passages somewhat perfunctorily; the soft key tones sounding bottomless in comparison to the fierce guitars, rather than complimenting them. Elsewhere, the mellower ‘4’, with its extended build up of ambient guitar noise and luscious keyboard arpeggios, is equally excellently rendered and executed, but somehow self-conscious, as if wanting to prove that they’re not a one trick pony.
The material comprising the second EP takes a leap forward in ambition, diversifying their palette with ramped up vocal textures on cuts like ‘6’, wider electronic experimentation with sub-bass noise, as well as – with the absolutely bewildering, what-the-fuck-just-happened-to-me ‘8’ – an apparent desire to test the boundaries of their own capabilities and discipline. Early track ‘2’ had a mid-section with enough complex rhythmic breaks to make me glad I was never invited to try and jam at one of their initial band practices, but this material takes it to astounding new levels – integrating the punishing riffs and electronics into impossible sounding rhythms.
Nothing on Numbers 1-13 can be said to be of anything approaching poor quality, but it’s definitely its back end – the material which made up the third EP – which finds Three Trapped Tigers settling into a confident maturity, exercising full command over their music. By conflating the polarities of sound in their earlier pieces – the bombast of ‘1’, the ambiance of ‘4’, the rhythmic focus of ‘8’ – Three Trapped Tigers arrive at their unique interpretation of contemporary post rock; the genre-leading sound which served as a launch pad for last year’s fantastic debut LP proper.
It’s perhaps unsurprising, and definitely encouraging, to find that the most jarring juxtaposition on a collection of songs spanning two years of recordings is to listen to ‘1’ immediately after ‘13’ – the former being a band sounding desperate to be heard, the latter being a band who know you want to listen. And not only is this a fantastic trajectory for a trilogy of EPs to have taken, it’s a trajectory which works just as well for an LP: opening with attention grabbing immediacy, expanding its scope and testing its boundaries throughout the mid-section, and settling into an self-assured maturity at its climax. Numbers 1-13, then, succeeds not only as an interesting history of a band rising to the height of their powers, but also as a solidly formed record in its own right.