Quick, compare your favorite musicians to types of food. For example: the Foo Fighters are a steak, so rock-solid are they. Janis Joplin is a bowl of grits, obviously. Bon Iver is a delightful, warm chowder of some sort. Perhaps clam.
Miniature Tigers is Cool Whip.
On the Brooklyn indie pop band’s third album, the smirkingly titled “Mia Pharaoh,” the name of the game is light and airy with a flavor that can’t be beat. Miniature Tigers is a prime example of the synth-heavy dream pop sound that “all those crazy kids” are listening to these days. In fact, you could make a mix tape of “Mia Pharaoh” and Neon Indian songs, blast it through some speakers and have yourself a very effective trap for V-neck shirts and girls with bangs. I’d get snared.
And before diving into the songs, let’s reflect on the album title, because this …
… this is Shakespeare, man.
The opening salvo, “Sex On the Regular,” is brimming with energetic cheesiness, best listened to with a pencil-thin mustache creeping up onto your upper lip. There’s a little Miike Snow, a little Discovery. Like fellow synthsmiths Chromeo, Miniature Tigers capitalize on a brand of pseudo-parody cool that many let go of two decades ago and repurpose it for a good time. It’s the business model of American Apparel, actually.
And that, in some part, is the point: This is not a new style. In many ways, the faux-80s workout video aesthetic is skateboarding and jazzercizing its way out the door faster than Patrick Bateman running down the stairs with a chainsaw. Of course, it’s South By Southwest in Austin right now, so maybe I’m projecting.
Tracks like “Female Doctor” and “Easy As All That” are perfectly “on message” with the refurbished neon nightscapes that Miniature Tigers deals in, and it’s just the right kind of winking sleaziness. “Boomerang” and “Angel Bath” both take a little 1950s time warp in moments. I thought I was listening to a Waffle House jukebox for a second. But that embellishment is just a springboard in both cases: “Boomerang” blends into the rest of “Mia Pharaoh” pretty quickly, while “Angel Bath” turns into a David Lynch movie. There is a spooky, angelic backing track that, joined by a horror movie spoken word breakdown and a feedback distortion effect, is essentially a “Blue Velvet” tribute song. And how appropriate: Lynch’s film gives the 1960s a love letter, and Miniature Tigers is making out with the 1980s.
More ethereal tracks like “Cleopatra” and “Flower Door” are dreamy and smooth, while “Afternoons with David Hockney” is a personal favorite that sounds like Dan Black at his most contemplative. Tying the whole package together? The atypical “Hologram Girl,” an acoustic ballad with faraway sadness that is this close to making the rest of the album look a little cheap. It’s a tailored coat in thrift store full of (albeit fun and charming) windbreakers.
Full disclosure: I am trying so hard to write around using the word “hipster” in this review. This writer’s internal thesaurus has run out of pages. Miniature Tigers makes music soaked in Pabst Blue Ribbon. Call it indie, call it whatever, but that’s what it is. And it is a fine example of it. Separate yourself from the associations you have about a promotional mix CD from Urban Outfitters, and hear me out.
Maybe there is a dose of irony in “Mia Pharaoh.” Maybe it’s an unstoppable, all-consuming, nigh insatiable wildfire of irony. I don’t care, and no one should. I listen to music because it’s good and because it’s fun. “Mia Pharaoh” is golden in my book.
(1) “Sex On the Regular”
(2) “Female Doctor”
(4) “Afternoons With David Hockney”
(12) “Hologram Girl”