Charlie Brand's head is a strange, fanciful place. On Miniature Tigers' debut LP, 2009's Tell It to the Volcano, the indie-pop artisans' chief guitarist/songwriter wielded a powerful tool — a charmer's voice suggesting doe-eyed glances and a gently flickering sexiness — while hopping among scenarios that got weirder as they went along. Brand boozed and sobbed to Tchaikovsky, cannibalized one girlfriend, relished the notion of tossing another into lava, and ruminated on how baby dinosaurs went on to vivisect their parents. These exotic metaphors enhanced songs about relationship drama — the most pedestrian of topics — but the Tigers coated those hooks with enough quirkiness that they became worth revisiting.
Fortress swaps out the band's sly, plugged-in rock for lower-key folk pop cloaked in tufts of reverb. There is much melody, and a handful of glittery explosions ("Mansion of Misery" has a superb bit of noise, and synth is sprinkled throughout "Tropical Birds" and "Gold Skull"), but the sum is a leaner, slower affair. The Tigers have no trouble doing vivacious and catchy without being cloying, so it's a shame they've shelved that skill.
On the bright side, Brand remains a blessedly kooky lyricist, tossing out titles ("Egyptian Robe," "Rock N' Roll Mountain Troll," "Bullfighter," etc.) that promise (and deliver) entertaining yarns. He rambles about taking off his mask to kiss someone in the street, and about tropical birds desperate to get free — but nothing is freakier than "Japanese Woman Living in My Closet." Who in his right mind writes an irony-free folk-pop tune about keeping a Japanese woman in captivity and missing her when she escapes? Mr. Brand, that's who. Which is why even when the Tigers' music doesn't completely fulfill, keeping abreast of his surreal daydreams is worth the listen.
MINIATURE TIGERS + THE SPINTO BAND | T.T. the Bear's Place, 10 Brookline St, Cambridge | August 12 at 8:30 pm | $10 | 617.492.0082 or www.ttthebears.com