Record #465: As Tall As Lions – You Can’t Take It With You (2009)

you can't take it with youOften, when a band jumps between genres, it betrays a lack of self-awareness—a sign that they have no idea what their voice sounds like.

But on As Tall As Lion’s swan song, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Let me back up a little. I first discovered the Long Island-based quartet when “Circles,” this album’s opener, popped up on my Local Natives station on Pandora. Its quick, handclapped tempo, sweet harmonies, and minor-keyed acoustic guitar riffs sounded exactly like what I was looking for when I asked Pandora for bands like the indie-pop heroes.

But when I looked a little closer into the group, I was a bit surprised. The title track, with its electronic saxophones, glistening synth harps, and strange key modulations sounded more like a long-lost 90s trip-hop hit than anything you’d call indie rock. The eight-minute horn-tinged “Duermete” plays like a proper chamber pop epic. And digging deeper into their discography, I discovered they started out as a proper emo band, with all of the throat-bleeding choruses to prove it.

At first, I dismissed ATAL as just another lackluster indie band who groped desperately in all directions to find their voice, ultimately failing.

But for whatever reason, this album grabbed my attention again last week.

And it did not let go.

While it’s true that the record spans a number of different styles, it is in no way a signal of an identity crisis. Throughout tracks as diverse as the tender lilt of “Go Easy,” the rocking shuffle of “In Case of Rapture,” the creeping honky-tonk of “We’s Been Waitin’,” the sample-heavy pop of “Is This Tomorrow,” and the somnolent balladry of “Sleepyhead,” As Tall As Lions’ voice is clear as ever, even if they dress it in a bunch of different outfits.

Much of this is thanks to the strength of Saen Fitzgerald (no relation) and Julio Tavarez’s literal voices. The two trade lead vocalist duties, operating in impressive tenors that temper the sweetness of their pop sensibilities with the fire of their emo roots.

However, the talents of the rest of the group cannot be discounted. And as told through the track-by-track credits, each member wore several hats during the recording process, shifting between instruments as each song demands. Again, if a band hasn’t found their own voice, this can be a recipe for disaster.

And yet, You Can’t Take It With You remains a consistent, cohesive record that continues to demand more and more of my attention.

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