Psapp: Tiger, My Friend
Cross the music box melodies and eccentric instrumentation of Múm with the pristine vocals of Ms. John Soda's Stephanie Böhm, then inject a dash of Sonig playfulness, and you're entering Psapp territory. Its debut, Tiger, My Friend, is a remarkably poised collection of infectious glitch-pop created by chanteuse Galia Durant and producer Carim Clasmann (whose credits include Einstürtzende Neubauten, Natacha Atlas, and Susheela Raman). One of the album's most striking contrasts is between Durant's sensual vocals, their intimate aura bolstered by their natural presentation, and the rich settings where squeaks, music boxes, whirrs, accordions, and other madcap sounds meet conventional instruments like guitars, pianos, and drums. Because Psapp composes songs using fundamentally traditional song structures that are strong enough to accommodate such instrumental indulgence, their approach avoids sounding contrived. Lyrically, the songs explore themes of disappointment, anxiety, and loneliness, often delivered in languid, soulful manner by Durant, but the album's sound is anything but dour. These more emotionally vulnerable songs lend weight, however, to what might have impressed instead as an engaging collection of oddities but little more.
The album's opening third is especially strong with three exceptional songs coming after a brief prelude of bird twitters and street noises. “Rear Moth” begins with a doubled flute intro (reminiscent of Jethro Tull) followed by Durant's buttery vocals set against a delectable array of acoustic bass, bells, sawing strings, and cymbals; the tune knocks about in an hypnotic 5/4 pattern that, like the 7/4 of “Solisbury Hill,” manages to sound perfectly natural. Coming down from the uptempo opener, the delicate “Leaving In Coffins” opens in more subdued, Múm-like fashion with electric piano sprinkles, owl noises, and typewriter clatter forming a base for Durant's gentle singing; with its lugubrious lyrical content (“You go, go, and you don't come back”), what could have sounded depressing is offset by the light-hearted musical setting. Opening with a similar intro of electric piano melodies and percussive knocking, “Calm Down” sounds initially repetitious but, instead, the song turns into an intimate hoe-down of acoustic guitars, sprinkling pianos, and soulful, jazz-tinged vocals.
If the remaining songs don't quite equal the peak level of these three, most are still very strong indeed. The omission of drums in the unusual “About Fun” makes for an elusive downbeat (especially when the song adopts a guitar-led Bossa Nova feel), yet Durant's singing, often doubled by piano, navigates its way easily through the stuttering rhythms. With its strong melodic hook (“We have only ourselves / Only ourselves to blame”), “Curuncula” nurtures a gentle campfire feel from its arrangement of acoustic guitars and wavering organ chords. Psapp reveals its trip-hop side, too, on “The Counter” where the dramatic blues-drenched, forlorn vocal backed by piano recalls Portishead.
Múm, Ms. John Soda, Portishead—such recurrent traces of influence might suggest Tiger, My Friend is no more than a repackaging of existent sounds. Far from it: while Psapp clearly echoes its precursors in myriad ways, its sound is ultimately unique and its album far more accomplished than the conventional debut. Add Tiger, My Friend to the list of high-quality electronic pop releases that have emerged in recent days.