You have to hand it to Tigers Jaw for sticking it out. The former fivesome from Scranton, PA lost three of its members shortly after recording their last album, 2014's Charmer, and looked for a moment like they might never recover. But here they are with the emotionally eloquent Spin, rejuvenated and sounding just as good as a duo as they ever did as a quintet.
Longtime fans will be relieved to hear that not a lot has changed since the shakeup. Sure, former guitarist Adam McIlwee was a prominent feature on the band's earlier records, his low, sulky voice adding more than a touch of gloom to their emo-inflected songs. While his delivery likely would have been a perfect fit for new songs like "Blurry Vision" or "Bullet," what remains of Tigers Jaw is no worse for wear without their former band mates.
Brianna Collins has stepped up to fill the co-fronting role alongside Ben Walsh, and her increased presence is a delight. "June" is a suitably summery tune that sparkles with Collins' chipper melodies, with a sense of joy that even the perpetually moody band's most upbeat songs never had, while "Brass Ring," another Collins-led cut, is permeated by a haunting, sombre vibe.
Worth greatest praise are Collins and Walsh's gorgeous harmonies, the lifeblood of these songs. Lead single "Guardian" is an instant earworm with a powerful, hooky chorus that's driven by their flawless duet, like just about every one of the album's finest moments. Spin as a whole is wistful and meditative, like the vigorous, sentimental "Follows," the elegantly crafted "Escape Plan" or the palpable, longing "Window."
While the pair have a strong command of melody and harmony, they're held back a bit by a finite set of ideas about what to do with them. As Spin works into its back third, a lack of variation slowly starts to nag. Now that the new Tigers Jaw have proven themselves admirably as a duo, a creative push into newer and perhaps riskier territory — like taking the rawness of the band's self-titled debut, the energy and experimentation of Two Worlds and the consistent proficiency of Spin — might land them a true indie-rock gem. It seems like the type of thing that these two never-quitters surely have in them. (Black Cement)