As a kid, TTNG’s drummer Chris Collis listened to King Crimson and Yes, read Bill Bruford’s books, and played Tool’s Lateralus to death. “But we’re not a prog band in the traditional sense,” he says. “We don’t do huge 20-minute explorations. I’d love to be in a band like that, but I can’t play that way.”
Be that as it may, TTNG – originally formed as This Town Needs Guns 12 years ago in Oxford – offer more challenging moments in one stripped-back three-minute burst than most Yes-by-the-yard merchants can muster over an entire album.
Recorded at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studio in Chicago, their third long-player Disappointment Island beautifully captures their bright, busy and catchy confection, which evokes the elegant, plangent lines of Sanguine Hum, the hip approach of cult Illinois rockers American Football and Owls, and the solid song sense of XTC. Call it math rock, call it pop prog – just make sure you call it.
Much of their sound rests on the left-field, self‑taught guitar style of Chris’ brother and band linchpin Tim Collis. His restless two-handed arpeggios, inventive tunings and clean tones mark him out as another virtuoso player who’s ditched the Rock Guitar Handbook and is bringing the instrument into the quantum era. “He’ll come in and say, ‘I’ve got a riff,’” says Chris, “and we end up arguing where the start of the beat is. I gave up counting a long time ago – it’s impossible with his stuff. Some parts of this album are in 22½/8! Now I just try to feel it.”
The warm water between the siblings is provided by singer/bassist Henry Tremain, whose odd, sweet vocals and introspective lyrics offer something to hold onto amid the ordered chaos. His first gig with the band was five years ago at the Harvest Festival in Melbourne, in front of a few thousand people. TTNG do well on the international circuit – they’ve also played in Japan and have just made their fourth appearance at ArcTanGent. But their bedrock audience is in the US, where they’re signed to LA label Sargent House, who put out 2009’s Animals and 2013’s 126.96.36.199.0.
“There wasn’t a massive PR campaign,” says Chris of their success Stateside. “It was a very grass-roots thing. People actually buy the album, the T-shirts, and our vinyl does well. It’s so good to know that, though we’re still very small, the people who like our band really like it and are passionate supporters.”
Half their fanbase is made up of young musicians attracted by the trio’s sheer technique; the other half dig the emotional aspect of the songs.
“In math rock everyone is so amazingly talented,” says Chris, “but they lose sight of that emotional aspect – there’s loads of technique but with something missing. We try to have that emotion all what way through. That’s always been key to us.”
Emotion in 22½/8? Bruford would be proud.
|Tim Collis (guitar), Chris Collis (drums), Henry Tremain (vocals, bass)|
|Sanguine Hum and Belle And Sebastian in an embrace, falling downstairs|
|Disappointment Island is available now on Sargent House|