With three EPs and a fourth full-length album recently released, Miniature Tigers play Russian roulette with the ghosts of relationships past, but in the most loving way. Cruel Runnings is the newest edition to Miniature Tigers’ discography, a bold compilation of ripped-out diary pages signed in boyish scrawl. And it follows suit with its antecedents. It is unreserved notions expressed with minimalistic language, always with a slight whiff of self-deprecation in the air. Blunt, charming, and instantly likable.
Miniature Tigers are fun — I saw the band at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor earlier this year when they filled the venue to capacity with charisma. Something about the simple, effortless lyrics, and the electric performance led me to the misguided conclusion that frontman Charlie Brand was scribbling the lyrics in his head as he sang them. I was also surprised at how a man of such unbreakably sturdy stature could produce such a playful, twisty voice, and harness the boundless emotions he sang about.
But I found that these were the first of many pleasant surprises that the band often unveils. They sing what they want to sing and express what they want, and curse if they feel like it. You can take it or leave it. I personally think it’s pretty hard to sing along to “Sex on the Regular” and not feel a sort of incredulous smirk tickling the corners of your mouth.
Behind the “shits and giggles” musical front of Cruel Runnings (so classic Miniature Tigers), there is genuine pain, joy, and reminiscence. Sure, I heard, “I’m never gonna let you go” in “Dream Girl” and thought I might be getting Rickrolled. Sure, “I could never live without you / Believe me, you’re just that cool” in “Dream Girl” seemed sappy enough without repeating it word for word in “Frazier Ave.” But every hyperbolic emotion in one song is balanced by sincerity in another. The fickle indecision of unhealthy relationships is disorienting and honest in “Selfish Girl” as the bright music is juxtaposed with: “Here comes the selfish girl / Who rules my world / Yeah I need you / Even though you don’t need me / Yeah you’re so mean / I can’t live without you.”
That’s what is so likable about Miniature Tigers. They may seem overwhelmingly emotional and lyrically unstable, but there’s bite behind the first appearances. It’s intelligent. The title “Used to be the Shit” practically asks to be made fun of. Because what songwriter would sing a song about a happy relationship gone bad, using such colloquial terms? But the song is catchy and bitter and not at all what you expect it to be. This kind of subtlety claims victory over the mischievous and childish personality that people are likely to see initially.
[Yes, they are just as adorable and humorous to see in real life.]
With Cruel Runnings, you’re always hearing it firsthand. “Swimming Pool Blues” and “Give it Up to Guru” are bright and exuberant in sound, but with the density of anxiety and goodbyes behind it. One minute you’re dancing, and the next thing you know, you’re knee-deep in words that feel real enough to touch. In a trendy club playing smooth, slowed-down disco pop.
Written by Juhee Lee