By T.J. Dempsey | Music Editor Published: 06/27/2013 8:00 am EST
The creative process can take a person’s artistic pursuits in many different directions. Naturally, there are times where that isn’t necessarily a good thing. We often wonder how a musician once responsible for seminal classics can fall to a state of mere mediocrity, but such declines are just as common among more low profile acts. Charlie Brand’s Miniature Tigers is a relatively obscure but delightful indie band with a warm and playful sense of experimentation.
For their first two albums, 2008’s ‘Tell it to the Volcano’ and 2010’s ‘Fortress,’ much of said strengths were rooted in Brand’s assured grasp of song-craft and lyricism. Their latest outing, ‘Mia Pharaoh,’ saw a notable shift in Brand’s artistic aspirations, apparently born out of an inner conflict of whether to emulate Scissor Sisters or Animal Collective. To say that ‘Mia Pharaoh’ is a disappointment on par with the above alluded great artistic downfalls is a grossly unfair judgement, certainly, but it does open the floor to discussing where the album and Brand went wrong.
For my money, it’d be the decision to drastically reduce the presence of Miniature Tigers’ drummer, Rick Schaier. Where ‘Mia Pharaoh’ subs out Schaier’s beats for acoustic and synthesized rhythms, earlier M.T. works bear an unmistakable pep and sunniness that could well be attributed to Schaier’s contributions. It’s those very aspects, after all, that embodied Schaier’s 2009 solo debut, ‘Mantis Preying,’ under the moniker of Alvin Band. Seemingly the antithesis of Brand’s creative arc, Alvin Band is a bold artistic experiment that succeeds wildly: the songs of ‘Mantis Preying’s’ first disc are entirely comprised of Schaier’s own voice and claps, all mixed and harmonized to form essentially a one-man Acapella orchestra.
If this sounds borderline satirical in its pretension, “Temple Pressure” dispels those concerns instantly in a cloud of rainbows and sass. I can’t even begin to decipher the bulk the lyrics (half are lost amid all that scatting and beat-boxing), though it’s obvious that Rick is drawing from his Jewish heritage in a manner that is tongue-in-cheek yet sincere. It comes from a personal place; indeed, much of ‘Mantis Preying’ seems derived from Schaier’s various interests and observations, ranging from the sport of pool (‘Billiards”) to modern introverted romances (“Cyberspace 2008″). Across all of Alvin Band’s songs, and especially on “Temple Pressure,” the mundane is held aloft on soaring harmonies and sloppily bombastic breakdowns. It’s almost like we’re being treated to the most polished versions of the little tunes Schaier hums while running errands.
Coming back around to unfair generalizations, Schaiers own personal creative arc has been comparatively smoother than that of his Miniature Tigers bandmate. With ‘Mantis Preying’s’ disc 2, Alvin Band moved into actual instrumentals, though used sparingly amid the still prevalent Acapella. Things remained quiet from then until January 2012, when Alvin Band resurfaced with ‘Rainbow Road,’ a collection of even more eccentric geek ballads (song titles include “Stanley Kubrick” and “Bowser’s Castle”). There’s no telling where Schaier will go from here, though all the evidence would indicate a continued upward trajectory.
Thomas Dempsey hails from Greenville County, South Carolina, where he has made a name for himself assembling and delivering sandwiches. A graduate of Presbyterian College with a duel major in Creative Writing and History and a minor in film, he’s achieved the technical status of professional writer by contributing to Examiner.com as a DVD critic. An aficionado of all media, Thomas harbors a particular affinity for visual storytelling and music.