Mary Timony's 'Taming the Tiger' Is a Gentle Beast

BY Eric HillPublished Feb 27, 2024


Mary Timony is one of those artists for whom the term “cult hero” could be appropriately assigned. For over thirty years, the Washington, D.C. native has worked away in the trenches, emerging from the punk ranks with Autoclave in the early ‘90s. Arguably her most enduring mark was made with Helium, the band she formed while at college in Boston; Their two albums for Matador, combining a post-grunge snarl, shoegaze guitar heroics and lightly progressive fantasy flourishes were highly regarded during the mid-’90s indie explosion. In the decades since, she's aggregated collaborations and projects at an impressive rate.

The other term you usually see ascribed to Timony is “guitar hero,” having elbowed her way onto otherwise uninspired lists dominated by the usual classic rock canon. She’s also helped hone the next potential wave of guitar heroes, having provided lessons to people like Snail Mail's Lindsey Jordan. Untame the Tiger, Timony’s first solo album in fifteen years, showcases the wide range in her skill set. She isn't a showy player, but rather a crafty one, building ornate sequences and structures that her ideas can peek out from. Opener “No Thirds” is a microcosm of sorts, featuring a nervy electric riff that overlays a broader acoustic one, arm in arm on the road toward an eventual Oz of sweeping strings and towers of guitar harmonics. While her playing is undeniable throughout, this song is an epic introduction for an album that becomes more lightweight as it unfolds.

The presence of veteran drummer and Fairport Convention member Dave Mattacks is felt in the baroque folk of “Looking for the Sun,” a mildly psychedelic, pastoral jaunt that carries hints of Nick Drake’s melancholy. The downbeat mood of the album comes from endings, not only of a romantic relationship but the passing of both of Timony’s parents during the two years that she worked on it. The heft of that pain presses down upon these songs, but things don’t feel quite as weighty as they perhaps should — there’s a lack of gravity to some of Timony’s songs here, with tracks that feel too tentative to reach into the depths of their feeling.

Albums with long gestation periods often reveal a grand unifying vision, something that required painstaking and detailed work. Untame the Tiger feels more like something that was worked away at as a healing distraction, put down and picked back up at irregular intervals. The album’s first half generates a positive charge that tapers off toward its conclusion, but Timony’s sly guitar magic is always there to provide a jolt of life.  

(Merge Records)

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