With a curious hybrid of post-rock and electronica, Three Trapped Tigers have been lighting up the London live circuit for a couple of years now with their original sound and compositional methods. The group’s leader Tom Rogerson has a background in a diverse array of music. He produced and arranged material on the debut album from Emmy The Great and played keyboards for Jeremy Warmsley but has also worked in the field of improvised music, performing occasional solo piano concerts and collaborating with the likes of saxophonist Tom Challenger in London and Bad Plus bassist Reid Anderson in New York. Somehow he has come to reject both the song-based and improvisational approaches to music in favour of something entirely different.
Perhaps this all helps explain the unclassifiable nature of this band’s sound. At times, they are ferociously loud, with a heavy duty assault possibly derived as much from metal as from jazz. The level of technical proficiency on display in their music is often startling, as is the sheer meticulous organisation of the music. Yet what is most memorable about it is not its cerebral quality, but more its sheer, irresistible, visceral impact. They are simply one of the most exciting bands to see or hear – and there are few groups in London pushing musical boundaries in quite this way.
Given the wildly inventive, fully formed quality of the first three Three Trapped Tigers EPs, it must have been tempting to simply package them together as a debut album. The long-awaited Route One Or Die does not duplicate any material from the EPs. Instead, it emerges as a coherent, powerful statement in its own right. Some of the material here packs an even harder punch than anything on the EPs, but there are also some very considered, reflective moments here too. As an ensemble, Three Trapped Tigers seem keen to journey into extremes of emotion, texture and dynamic.
The opening Cramm (this is the first time the band have used actual titles instead of numerical values in the manner of Supersilent), veers between moments of explosive ferocity and contrasting tranquility. Sudden shifts in dynamics help make the music gloriously unpredictable. The pinpoint accuracy of Rogerson’s angular rhythmic figures remains one of the group’s defining characteristics, the impact of the music greatly enhanced by the extraordinary precision of the ensemble.
Noise Trade and Creepies have a mechanistic, industrial menace that seems like a new development – a move away from highly syncopated rhythm in favour of experimenting with sound and colour. Ulnastricter begins in haunting, Aphex Twin-esque territory before building gradually into something intense and potent. These are possibly the early signs of a route forward for a band that have produced such successful statements so early in their career that they could easily be forced into a cul de sac.
What is most impressive about Route One Or Die is the utter sense of conviction and commitment brought to every aspect of this complex, intricate music. Adam Betts’ drumming is crisp and authoritative – whilst Rogerson’s synths and Matt Calvert’s guitars blend brilliantly, creating music with a searing, unstoppable force.