By Lane Moore, Contributor
TTNG are a notable group for many reasons, the most important one being their coining of the best pickup line in alternative rock history. If someone asked me if I wanted to come back to their room and listen to some Belle and Sebastian, I would definitely say yes. Aside from that very important detail, TTNG are best described as a group of gifted musicians who have weathered an unusual amount of lineup changes in their 14 years of existence. Hailing from the United Kingdom, the band was formerly known as This Town Needs Guns, a joke regarding the low crime rate and absence of guns in their hometown of Oxford, England. Once the name was no longer a clear, ironic jest, it was changed in order to prevent confusion.
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With both a name change and a massive rotating cast, the history of this band is more confusing than my father’s expectations. TTNG began as a five-piece, emphasizing the vocals of Stuart Smith (vocals/rhythm guitar) and the lead guitar of Tim Collis. Collis is the only remaining original member of the band, and his jazz, Spanish and classical influences are felt throughout the band’s entire discography. TTNG’s first demo, literally entitled First Demo, can be compared to the work of The Fall of Troy and Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate). Littered with distorted guitar, emo sensibilities and interlocking rhythms, this description characterizes much of the group’s work up until 2011, which marked the departure of Smith.
During TTNG’s time as a four-piece (they never recorded as a five-piece), they released one LP, two EPs and four singles. Following First Demo is 2006’s Hippy Jam Fest. This EP focuses on the same dissonance and angst as its predecessor, and the inclusion of distorted rhythm guitar prevented Collis’ Spanish fingerpicking stylings from being too apparent. The band’s course as an oddly technical emo band continued and all was angsty with the world. This changed, however, with the release of TTNG’s self-titled EP in 2008. Clearly a math rock record, many guitar effects were traded for clean, twinkly guitar riffage. The guitars of Smith and Tim Collis collide gracefully with the percussion of Chris Collis, Tim’s brother, who joined the band in 2006.
Chris Collis’ masterful control over his instrument is essential in allowing for the progression shown on the self-titled EP. On the record, one may hear the faint shimmering of a dying star or the explosion of the most fantastic vindication. It is dynamic and thoughtful, but the control and craftsmanship reveal more than even the most cathartic lyrics. On “Want to Come Back to My Room and Listen to Some Belle and Sebastian”, Smith cries, “See you’re not for these blue eyes turned an envious green / You were made for a man much better than me.” These songs are the cross section of masterful musicianship and wonderful self-awareness.
In that same year, their debut LP followed the S/T. Entitled Animals, the record bears more resemblance to Toe and Covet and was their debut for Sargent House Records. Furthermore, every song is named after an animal, which made it possible for the album to be put on one CD (the song titles on the S/T are so long that 8 CDs have to be used per copy). It’s true; I promise. The drums are even more technical on Animals, and Tim Collis is finally allowed to put his true fingerstyle prowess on display. Any distortion effects used on Animals rarely exceed a light overdrive, and finger-style defines the record. Due to the virtual absence of guitar effects, each song is completely dependent on the complexity and varied structures that now describe TTNG’s songwriting.
Throughout their years of progressing and improving, two features of the band’s sound remain the same: the melodic, textural bass and the sweet vocal melodies. After releasing 2011’s Adventure, Stamina & Anger, Smith departed to start a family and bassist Jamie Cooper left to focus on his professional career. Although TTNG recruited a new singer, Henry Tremain, and was left without a bassist, the two constant features were left unchanged.
The dynamics of the band shifted even further under the new lineup. More technical and controlled than ever, the release of 18.104.22.168.0 in 2013 marked the final shift of TTNG’s sound and was Tremain’s debut record with the band. Time signatures and melodies are manipulated and construed on this LP, and nuances of indie rock accessibility meet instrumentation comparable to Owls and Maps and Atlases. Rather than playing a standard bass, Tremain chooses to play a custom Fender bass VI (a six-stringed bass) for the band. Using the instrument’s wide range of frequencies, he effectively fills voids left by guitar technicalities and complements the intricacies of Tim Collis’ leads.
Excluding the acoustic version of Animals, TTNG most recently released Disappointment Island (2016). Stylistically, it is similar to 22.214.171.124.0; however, the content is more emotive than releases in recent years. On “Whatever, Whenever”, a somber baritone guitar instrumental ensues before Tremain confesses “I’ve been losing the taste for living” with honey-glazed conviction. After this, a distorted instrumental reminiscent of TTNG’s self-titled record cements the agony of “lying awake” and “re-living mistakes” in a mold of fuzzy frequencies. This return to the use of effects could be a hint toward new songwriting strategies, which would be no surprise from this group.
Though TTNG have endured a myriad of trials, specifically that one time when they were arrested for touring through Hong Kong (which is apparently considered to be “working without a permit”), the band continues to be a driving force in the math rock scene. TTNG always have a sense of humor and a fantastic aptitude for having a great time, whether it be a live session, a show or an interview. From the insane hi-hat control of Chris Collis to his brother’s equally-impressive guitar skills, each of the band’s records has something unique to offer. So go listen to them and stuff, but do not compare them to Tool – ever. Tool is not a math rock band.
If you compare Tool to TTNG, you will be hearing from my lawyer.
Listen to TTNG’s latest record here: