Instrumental music, when expertly crafted, often shimmers with something beneath its surface, a spring-loaded energy set for flight. Without words to act as release, the body turns to other solutions—dance, most notably, but in the case of Brooklyn-based band TIGUE, perhaps something more surreal.
“We’re trying to create a space where listeners can take themselves out of their own reality for just a moment,” band member Carson Moody said. “It’s an abstract experience—how you’re able to connect with music that doesn’t tell you what it’s trying to be.”
And the music is abstract: TIGUE blends percussive finesse with “homegrown ethos,” as its website states. But what does that mean, and can it be qualified?
Essentially, TIGUE is a percussion trio that relishes every last din, blast, and cry its thirty fingers can produce from its instruments. The band—Matthew Evans, Amy Garapic, and Moody—met as undergraduates at Ohio State University, where they bonded over the music of Steve Reich and David Lang. Now, several degrees, years, and apartments later, the trio is rattling the indie music scene by foregrounding its academic backdrop with inspired art-rock compositions.
This began with New Amsterdam Presents, the New York artists’ service organization that curates and launches musicians who do not fit in conventional genres. TIGUE’s unclassifiable (or omni-classifiable, depending on how you look at it) music was a strong fit, which led to pop-up concerts in New York basements, last year’s debut album Peaks, and slots at this summer’s Live at the Archway series in DUMBO and the Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival in Prospect Park.
After four years together, TIGUE still wrestles with its musical definition—following its performance at the 2016 Ecstatic Music Festival, WNYC’s John Schafer said TIGUE’s music “seems to come from many places and no place.” Listening to TIGUE is at once perplexing and stimulating; time signatures turn on a dime without sacrificing dexterity or synchronization—not that TIGUE wants you counting beats, though the experience of their music ranges from visceral to mathematical. TIGUE’s inability to fixate on one style (West African rock? Post-minimalism?) might be reflected in its ever-shifting tempos and meters. Somehow, this elusiveness might not be a weakness.
“It’s not that we’re trying to be labeled,” Moody said. “We’re just trying to do all these things that we think are great and not let labels give us orders.”
Devoid of melodies and lyrics to further categorize it, TIGUE’s music could be employed as the score for an indie movie or the soundtrack to modern dance, like something the title character in Frances Ha would choreograph. But by keeping its public interpretation open, TIGUE has the potential to garner followers from a wider scene.
“We could play at Destination Moon,” Garapic said of TIGUE’s recent festival appearance in Wurtsboro, New York, “but we could also play at a college and give a master class.”
Academia interweaves their musical paths—Garapic has lectured at Bard College and the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, Evans and Moody received graduate degrees from the highly selective Eastman School of Music in Rochester—so it is not surprising to hear their textbooks’ composers permeate their songs.
Take “Dress Well.” Early in the piece, Garapic uses a violin bow to extract metallic moans from her cymbal. Or in the soaring “city glow,” Berio-esque vocalizations—inarticulate wails—rip out of the song’s electro-acoustic bedding. Minimalist motifs continue in “Contrails,” which has the pulse and non-narrative quality of ambient music.
The inspirations don’t stop there: “For every composer there’s a band also backing up our sound,” Evans shared.
Yo La Tengo is one, present in more than just spirit—members Ira Kaplan and James McNew joined TIGUE for “Mouth,” a song on Peaks. And like Penguin Cafe Orchestra, TIGUE blends classical and rock styles to lead listeners further into the wordless: toward release, sometimes confusion, and escape.
This tango between bewildering rhythms and steady groove is the crux of TIGUE’s appeal, of what makes the band work and not. The trio often plays continuous sets—stringing together a few popular songs into one fifteen-minute quasi-movement before breaking. Cloudy, hanging synthesizer chords sometimes bridge songs and act as a foil for the crisper, if not stiffer, moments when TIGUE locks its course. In those, TIGUE jives like ocean meeting sand. But when seemingly improvising, it can be difficult to discern who holds the melody, or even the beat. Somehow, though, this seems part of the aesthetic (or gimmick) because when the groove unexpectedly resumes, mystifying and satisfying in its surprise, all but fireworks shoot from TIGUE’s drumsticks.
In “Triangle,” where exuberant melody and percussive intensity collide, there is a moment in the rising action where the rhythm almost feels like it’s been lost. The song starts in 5/4, led by Evans on synthesizer, shifting to four, and deftly back again. Moody chomps away at his cymbals, while Garapic strikes quarter notes like buoy clangs on her tinny glock.
The music builds, and when cacophony comes close to outrunning the band’s internal clock, as if with a wink or lifted chin a steady gait resumes. Was the chaos’s demise rehearsed, or the stroke of a magically aligned downbeat? It may be an insult to call it the latter, but the wonder is in the ambiguity. For a moment, Evans, Garapic, and Moody may have existed in their own musical ether before deciding to cross paths and become TIGUE again.
This touch-and-go soundscape, the ebb and flow of solidified and detached rhythms, may reflect TIGUE’s formative years—postgraduate but preconception—when Evans was in Brooklyn, Garapic was at Bard, and Moody was at Eastman. To compose, they had to travel toward one another.
“We drove a lot,” Moody said. “I thought, ‘Six-hour drive from Rochester to New York, I’ll do that twice in a month, no big deal.’ Travel is such a part of our lives. And directly in the middle of that drive is this one street sign that just says Tigue, and we jumped on it. It’s this midpoint.”
“Not that we thought of it because of this symbolism, but it is this place on the way to a better one,” Garapic added.
Read into it, or don’t. As Evans said, “It’s also, truthfully, just a sign.”