WALKING TALL Hi Tiger step out.
That photo with the high heels is so good you almost don't need to know anything else about Hi Tiger before taking the plunge with their music. They seem to have such a consistent aesthetic and vision that you can almost hear their music before it comes from the speakers: leather, vamp, attitude, dance (and repeat).
The quintet's debut album, I Love Music, varies only slightly from what you might expect. Sure, the '80s dance riffs are there, the synthesizers and guitars laying down repeating melodies while the drums furiously drive the pace. There is an underground feel, like the way things that only happen late at night sound, brighter than normal and magnified and echoing.
If you were expecting something you could lose yourself in, though, something mindless to get sweaty to, Hi Tiger are deeper than that.
They do sound like Joy Division more than a little. Everyone's got that one right. (Except, well, their production values are much better. Listened to Closer lately? Those guys from the late '70s wish they had had Garage Band. JD are a little more punkish for the hollowness of the instruments, but give me what Ron Harrity has done with Hi Tiger, in terms of fidelity, any day.)
Hi Tiger frontman Derek Jackson is just so much more angry. While Ian Curtis was disaffected and morose, Jackson comes off more aggressive. He's certainly more active on stage (not that I ever saw Curtis live — he died when I was five) and the edge to his delivery can be like a slap in the face. Dang if their voices don't sound similar sometimes, though.
This is probably most jarring on Hi Tiger's cover of New Order's "The Village." You'll remember that New Order are Joy Division, post-Curtis, and so it's kind of a trip to think what that band would have sounded like if Curtis had joined them in revolutionizing modern dance music. Turns out it sounds kind of like the National, at least in the beginning.
Jackson gives gravity to lyrics that are flighty and high-end with Bernard Sumner singing them. By the finish, with the repetition of the central "our love is like the flowers, the rain, the seas, and the hours," Jackson has simply imbued the song with much more power, which spikes when he occasionally reaches for a falsetto.
For true wattage, though, there's no comparing to the album's opener, "Nukes." We’re essentially introduced to the band by way of frank first-person recounting of a gay relationship with a man named Malcolm, a dude who contracted HIV, lived through the suicide of his partner, and then slept around in heartache: "It took six months for Malcolm to die/The dementia was the hardest part/Watching your friend decay was devastating/But cleaning up the poop that he refers to as his children just makes it surreal."
Jackson speaks the lyrics in an agitated rant, his voice sometimes growling and cracking. That sits over an eerily upbeat and breezy melodic soundscape created by Cory McCulloch (bass/keys), Roy Ghim (guitar/keys), and Erica Burkhart (guitar), which just makes the whole thing sordid and lurid. In a good way.