Why is it that there are so many sub-genres of indie rock that are the subject of ridicule and derision at the hands of other indie fans? Surely the fans of music made by outsiders for outsiders should realise that its pretty much against all indie ethos to mock people for their musical leanings. Perhaps they're doing it ironically? The term “Emo” for example was, and to an extent remains, a put-down and an insult. Bands have tried to avoid being labelled as emo for as long as the word has existed and fans have likewise struggled to avoid the taunting jeers of their fellow music fans.
However some genres openly accept their labels. Embrace them even. I can think of no better example of this than Twee Indie-pop. No sub-genre has gone more out of its way to play up to the idea of what it should be. Sweet harmonies, jangly guitars, girls with short hair and innocent voices and lyrics that are totally nonthreatening. The overriding element of sweetness in twee indie makes it seem rather inconsequential and unsubstantial, a fluff piece to the rather more serious articles of Indie-rock. But the sweetness often betrays a rather acute intelligence on behalf of the artists creating it. Twee developed what punk always aimed for. A network of tiny tiny labels made up of groups of friends who make music together. A real sense of musical community. Places like Olympia, Washington in the early 1990's were hives of musical activity with many of the bands playing sweet, slightly punky, indie pop. Beat happening, one of the more successful of these bands, were right at the heart of it with their front man, Calvin Johnson's record label K. They pumped out many of the great indie-pop records of the 90's including this post's main focus. The first, last and only album from Tiger Trap.
The band released several EPs and singles but this was their only album before they split up. They were an all girl band. Rose Melberg, the bands front woman and rhythm guitarist later went on to start The Softies and Go Sailor, who also only made one full length record, and is now a solo artist.
This album to me sums up exactly what indie-pop is. Everything that is great about the genre, and all that is stereotyped about it, is captured in this one album. The opening track is “Puzzle Pieces”, one of the most upbeat tracks on the album. It's not hardcore but there is a punky element to the fast pace and chord progression. There's an urgency to the track that makes it sound more playful than angry when mixed with the melodic lead guitar riff and Melberg's sweet girly voice. The upbeat cheeriness of it is a little infectious and its hard not to listen to it without cracking a smile.
For me personally, the best track is “Words And Smiles”. It is the very essence of indie-pop. Upbeat, friendly, incredibly melodic, slightly punky and with lyrics so coy and childlike they could have been written by a 14 year old in the throws of their first crush. If “Jumped so high/dressed in white/ I'd write you letters but I'm just too shy” isn't the most twee lyric you've ever heard I will be shocked.
The album, like many, winds down towards the end. This isn't because the songs at the end of the track are poor but because the 3 in the middle are so good! Tracks 6 through 8 are by far the best on the album and represent a peak that the tracks afterwards (with the possible exception of “My Broken Heart”) cant quite follow.
“You And Me” is one of a few slower tracks on the album. Though the pace and almost frantic attack isn't there the song still retains the same sound as the others. Distorted, jangly rhythm and distant lead guitars and a very loose, open sounding snare drum. The vocals retain their tight harmonies. It's pretty rare to find a record that maintains one sound throughout. There is almost no change in the sound of each instrument from song to song. What distinguishes the songs from each other is the tone of Melberg's voice and the tone of the song. “My Broken Heart” for example is a far more melancholy song than “Words And Smiles” but the instruments all sound the same in both tracks. It's the hint of sadness in the vocal delivery and the toned down energy that the band put into the track that make it sadder. Tiger Trap manage to convey different emotions with very little variation in approach. Not easy to do by any means.
The album is rather lo-fi in sound and it makes a world of difference. The homemade sounding production and lack of finish give it more heart and, in my opinion, makes it seem more genuine. A slick production job would make the record far too pop and the fact that maybe the drums are mixed too high and the lead guitar has a bit too much reverb on it make this album so much more endearing. It sounds better than, say, a record your girlfriend's band made in their garage but not by miles. Its this accessibility that makes the album so captivating. You realise that Tiger Trap are not a whole lot different from you and you're friends. Calvin Johnson just happened to put out their record instead of yours.