“TTT is at the cutting edge of contemporary music. Watch your fingers!” Brian Eno
“I think the problem for anyone striving to create their own sound is, once you – hopefully - have achieved that, how do you expand that whilst maintaining it?” asks guitarist and keyboard player Matt Calvert of himself on the evolution of Three Trapped Tigers. The answer in this instance is really rather a simple one and it is to be found within the glorious, eclectic and exhilarating Silent Earthling, an album that carries forward the unique idiosyncrasies the group have shaped for themselves, whilst simultaneously expanding into previously unexplored territory.
For the unacquainted, Three Trapped Tigers are a band for which genres labels struggle to keep up, they move –often at breakneck speed - from screeching, effect-laden guitars, an arsenal of glistening sci-fi synths, pummelling sub-bass, colossal riffs and audacious drum patterns that both underpin and define their unique sound. As anyone who has seen their incendiary live shows will know, trying to pinpoint what makes the group such a force is a difficult thing to do. On stage they are something of a vortex, creating a swirling mass of layered sounds that sucks one in, possessing that rare ability of managing to sound complex and fluid whilst eschewing any feelings of pomposity or sterility - in full force Three Trapped Tigers feel both gracefully intelligent and wildly primal, gargantuan yet melodic.
It’s been five years since their debut studio album, Route One or Die, came out. It has been these intervening years that have moulded the new record, through a combination of touring and live experiences as well as a rich and impressive series of collaborations and personal projects that have augmented the group’s palate. Touring with the likes of Deftones and Dillinger Escape Plan. The group worked with Brian Eno and Karl Hyde of Underworld, using Brian’s ‘Oblique Strategies’ during the writing stages of Silent Earthling, something that proved an invaluable way of forcing the group out of their comfort zones. Through Brian they also performed at Punkt festival in Norway and played an improvised collaboration gig in Oslo with their synth hero Ståle Storløkken of Supersilent.
Calvert and the group’s drummer, Adam Betts, currently form the backbone of The Heritage Orchestra, and have recently been part of some truly unique projects: an electro-orchestral, multi-media reworking of Joy Division material; performing the Blade Runner soundtrack; and also performing the Music of Giorgio Moroder at Sydney Opera House. They also played Goldie’s album Timeless at the Royal Festival Hall. In fact their musical explorations have been so vast and varied they’ve even found themselves working with the likes of Roots Manuva, Skepta and JME. Keyboard player Tom Rogerson has even taken the Brian Eno connection to the next level and a collaborative album with Brian Eno is due later this year.
However, as impressive as their work outside of the band is, it’s where it has led them to on this record where it’s impact can really be felt: shimmering sci-fi explorations; rich cinematic landscapes; pulsing electronics; mammoth riffs and pounding drums. “Some of the tunes are quite aggressive, some are poignant, some are just dumb, rocking fun... I guess we have tried to refine our sound whilst keeping it vital and exciting.” Calvert says when trying to pinpoint some of the developments the band have taken, with Rogerson adding, “Matt has produced and mixed quite a few records in the intervening years, and his production chops are much stronger, so we've ended up with tracks which are far more sonically detailed than previously, which means it's all a bit more Technicolor… when I listen to it, I still think that we don't really sound like anyone else - even if it's an unholy jumble of all of our tastes - which is as good a reason as any to make music. ” Some of the most noticeable developments can be found through the duality of refinement and expansion; here we have less blaring noise and more melody, deep-set grooves, unshakable hooks and much more electronics. On the title-track they nod subtly to Death Grips via Hudson Mohawke; on ‘Engrams’ they employ a sort of quasi-jungle salvos; ‘Kraken’ takes on a pounding doom-laden tone; whilst ‘Hemisphere’ sees them ditch guitars altogether to create something cinematic in scope, infused with roomy keyboards, mechanical drums and glistening flashes of synth that somehow feel both emotionally rich and warm, yet also cold, dystopian and eerie – like all the best sci-fi films.
Calvert wrote the majority of material on this album and the recording process itself was pretty speedy, “Our whole operation is very DIY - other than a few days of intense drum recording in a ‘proper’ studio, we recorded everything else in my flat, where I also mixed the album.” Calvert says, adding that location played an important role in the creation of this album, “We rehearsed and did pre-production stuff at the Deptford Music Complex, just down the road from where Betts and I live, just off Queens Road, Peckham. It’s great to have had a local feel to the making of the album, we were very much entrenched in South East London that summer.”
If Three Trapped Tigers have managed a continuation of their sense of personal tone and character – which they have – then another aspect that they have brought with them on this album is the palpable feeling of ‘where next?’ Silent Earthling is a record that makes predicting their next stop somewhat impossible, a sentiment that Calvert echoes, “There are still some ideas and ambitions we have for our sound that we haven’t yet explored. I think we would like to keep the ball rolling and be more prolific so that we can really push our potential.”