The making of Midnight Hands
The Year of the Tiger born out of Underclaire’s complications.
Underclaire’s snag is The Year of the Tiger’s fortune. That’s one way of viewing Underclaire’s difficulties in late 2010 that created Little Rock outfit The Year of the Tiger, an offshoot of Underclaire, releasing its debut EP Midnight Hands this week.
Underclaire, a fellow Little Rock group known for fierce minimalist rock, entered 2010 with heady plans — the band’s Making Sky was celebrated with a release party on New Year’s Day, and the band was touring and promoting the album. But by September, the band was experiencing complications.
“When the band’s interpersonal relationships and availability hit a snag and forced us to take a break,” Underclaire’s vocalist, guitarist and chief songwriter Mike Mullins says, “I wanted to keep writing and continue with my musical growth and exploration. So, I began reaching out to other Little Rock musicians in an effort to form a new group.”
Mullins and Underclaire bassist Rob Brackett soon were jamming with Jason Tedford, the owner of Wolfman Recording Studios and member of Iron Tongue and Ashtray Babyhead, and drummer Josh Tate, who had most recently played with Elise Davis. Due to Tedford’s hectic schedule between his studio and bands, he graciously departed the group after a few weeks. Enter Jeremy Brasher, keyboardist and singer of The Moving Front. Welcome also The Year of the Tiger.
By early 2011, The Year of the Tiger were playing local dates and began recording Midnight Hands in the fall of 2011 at Tedford’s studios. (Since finishing the EP, Brackett left the band and Andrue Sullivan of Unbearable Hand Fate Dealt has stepped in on bass.)
The rise of The Year of the Tiger is also a fortuitous happening for fans of Arkansas-bred rock — the kind of tight, brawny rock with synth textures found on the five punchy, post-rock tunes of Midnight Hands. But Year of the Tiger is not merely an extension of Underclaire, which still plays from time to time depending on work schedules and familial responsibilities. It’s a fresh development. Some of the same underlying sounds are shared by the bands — Mullins is, after all, the main songwriter for both acts — but The Year of the Tiger’s sonic landscape is a bit more diverse. Tight rock rhythms, sure, but layered with synths.
Midnight Hands is over in a flash of a little more than 21 minutes. So it’s a concise EP with little fuss — a punkish energetic rush of crunching guitars rubbing elbows with electronic flourishes, crashing cymbals and tap-dancing bass lines.
Brasher’s work usually isn’t independent of the tunes but simply adds stratums of sound. Brasher increases the urgency of “Fresh & Blood” with his space-rock synths, and guides the opening of “Mal De Mer” with his twirling synth work. When the synths do emerge though, the sound explores the tune’s sonic registries while not being grandiloquent. Brackett and Tate hold the bottom end down from the ping-ponging rock “The Constellation Heart” to the start-stop roll of “True North,” adding their own little splashes through the journey, such as Tate’s closing, cannonball drum rolls on “All Your Gravity.”
But at the center of The Year of the Tiger’s sound is those riffs — chunks of stabbing chords. Mullins, departing from his guitar playing in Underclaire, relies less on complex time signatures and more on a steady diet of effects-heavy guitar work that is hard-hitting with a melodic heart. The riffs are still crisp but not afraid of incorporating a little noise into the mix, such as the uncoiling guitar break on the wound tight “All Your Gravity.”
The plan of The Year of the Tiger in 2012 is a gig at Chili with a Kick on Feb. 25 beyond this Saturday’s EP release party at Stickyz. The band is also submitting itself for Riverfest and hopes for some Fayetteville gigs, but Mullins says the main plan is working “on new material, polishing the un-recorded songs, and playing shows to pay off this EP.”
Let’s hope The Year of the Tiger has more music coming. Mullins and The Year of the Tiger have created a searing yet melodic post-punk rock soundscape on Midnight Hands. The tunes are a sprint but well-plotted while still exploring the experimental undercurrents of the music. It’s still guitar-powered, lean rock — just with the added punch of synths and a slight bounce.
SEE THE MUSIC
The Year of the Tiger is holding an EP release party for Midnight Hands at Stickyz on Saturday. Cover is $5. The opening acts include local rock band Falcon Scott and the do-it-yourself, traveling-band, lo-fi avant-pop of The Binary Marketing Show, kicking off the music at 9 p.m. It’s an 18-and-up show. A digital copy of Midnight Hands is available on iTunes for $4.95.