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'Cocoon' by Tigermask

Review

When I wrote last month about the latest single from Tigermask, "Mirtazapine", I told you quite a lot about its parent album ‘Cocoon' which in turn has emerged from its own cocoon this morning. In fact I probably ought to have held back some of the detail for today. Oh well…. To recap though or jog your memories, just as "Mirtazapine" sits in the centre of ‘Cocoon', the album is second in a three album cycle, following 2015's ‘Ovum', so it would help to listen to the earlier album before ‘Cocoon' and if you want to hear how the issues resolve, you'll need to wait for the conclusion of the arc.

‘Cocoon' comprises ten other songs as well as "Mirtazapine": "Mother", "Into The Woods/Cocoon", "Ballad of a Blind Man", "Doppel", "Rear Window", "The Spider", "Seizing the Void",  "Homeless_Path #1", "Homeless_Path #2",   and "Fever" and as noted in June, the first part of the album concerns the protagonist before he takes the anti depressant and thence the second part charts its (hopefully beneficent) effects upon him: reflecting Tigermask's own decade in the darkness of poor mental health before emerging into the artist we know today, capable of articulating his journey from a safe perspective. Once you appreciate that, then the analogy of the album's title makes much more sense. In fact it was brave of him to remove one track, however pivotal, from the whole to act as a single, as its meaning is greatly enhanced within the context of its setting.

In addition, I recommend your reading the detailed account of the album he has revealed on his website (too comprehensive to reproduce here): https://www.whoistigermask.com/cocoon

It's hard to critique any body of work so intensely personal and playing the songs can certainly give you the impression of being allowed to peer into the privacy of someone else's trauma: not always easy listening, but then I hope that at "Hot Music Live" we do not settle for easy listening and help share more challenging material: especially where mainstream media might be more reluctant. That's not to say that ‘Cocoon' is dissonant nor harsh: there is a great beauty throughout in terms of the sounds, though shot through with melancholia and filtered through our own understanding of what the songs are about.

There are resonances too with the work of other artists whose work is so familiar to us: it's hard listening to "Mother" not to equate some of its sentiments to the pathos of John Lennon's song of that name nor (if you are of such a persuasion) the Pink Floyd one. Equally "Ballad of a Blind Man" may have you thinking of Dylan, though in Tigermask's case, instead of a fierce diatribe against another, the power of the song is aimed solidly inwards.  Which may make you flinch a little as I did.

Thankfully, the album is an arc and once past the critical point, the music does mutate into more upbeat forms and become less harrowing in content and if you travel the whole road of ‘Cocoon' then you'll be glad you did. The end of the album offers hope (though resolution presumably will arrive with the final part of the trilogy) and really does not hit you with the full effect of that unless you have experienced the preceding tracks.

Tigermask is a very individual artist and to date has been focused on recording & releasing auto biographical material (although his live set does also feature covers), so it's no surprise that despite the allusions to the work of others, he has adopted a style which not only serves what he wishes to say in the best way, but owes little to others. As I say, beauty and pathos predominate through the very sparse and plangent approach and the quantity of space is more than sufficient to allow the impressions to settle in your minds and ferment. Most tracks have only a single dominant instrument (apart from "The Spider") and thus his voice is central at all times. The music itself often departs into other, non-Western cultural forms, melodies and modes.

I suppose that catharsis plays a very significant role in the creation of the whole three album cycle, and the length of time Tigermask has been taking to hone it suggests not only perfectionism but an indication that the whole process of working through his experiences in song is of value to him. Nevertheless, that in no way suggests that the album comes across as self indulgent nor inwards looking. Quite the opposite: it gives the impression that he wishes primarily to share his experiences in order to help others & communicate to them what he has found beneficial. Each song does stand on its own if necessary & none disappears up itself in terms of accessibility to those of us whose story it is not.

I don't know whether Tigermask has plans to play the album through live as a piece (it needs to be done though) and I fear that not many radio stations would care to play it that way either, which is a shame as it works best as a single, long suite of inter relating pieces. Nevertheless, it is a remarkable achievement and I hope you'll considering listening to it in sequence on the platform of your choice. It may also offer some sense of hope and optimism to those on a similar journey to its creator. I look forwards to the third part of the story.

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"Mirtazapine" by Tigermask

Review

It has been a while since we were able to feature Tigermask in the magazine (and in the interim, his standalone track "Timeless" appeared on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Three' in April of 2020) but now his new single "Mirtazapine" is out tomorrow on Apple Music to be followed by its parent album ‘Cocoon' via all platforms on 30th July.

The album as a whole is the second in a conceptual trilogy, following his debut ‘Ovum' of November 2015 and it is clear that the artist has thought very hard about not just the content of the project but also the fine detail of the structure as he tells me that "Mirtazapine" sits deliberately at the midpoint of ‘Cocoon' (and I suppose therefore at the pivot point of the entire trilogy) with preceding tracks being significantly different to those succeeding it as the protagonist experiences a form of re-birth.

The context of the whole is essential to understanding it as the cycle clearly has major auto biographical themes. Tigermask began creating it as far back as 2006 as he emerged from a "..near decade-long tunnel" of ill health and consequent solitude. (If the single's  title doesn't' convey much to you, then perhaps my revealing that it shares its name with an anti-depressant does).

This sense of being cut off from the world naturally informs the album title and is crucial to understanding how an individual can battle the effects of poor mental health, gain the self awareness necessary to try to emerge from the consequences and perhaps most importantly for an article such as this, use music as a therapeutic pathway for emerging back into the world. It is highly illuminating that Tigermask says of himself and his musician identity:

"I've never really felt much like a musician. To this day, I've never been in a band or moved in social circles driven by mutual passions for music. It simply became my chosen form of expression – a means to an end. The story I wanted to tell and how I wanted to tell it has always led the way. Any new skill or instrument I've ever learned has been in service to the story and never the other way around."

In this context, we can see how deeply personal these songs are to Tigermask in telling his own, unique story, yet like all good music, they resonate with the listener as well as the writer & you can use whichever expression or idea you feel most comfortable with to try to relate his writing about being trapped inside for so long with only his own thoughts as company (and how destructive that can be..) with what all of society has experienced over the last year or so: incredibly topical yet obviously it was all written long before the shared experience was imagined.

"Mirtazapine" itself describes how the taking of a single new pill broke a terrible cycle of insomnia through a straight 48 hour sleep to a new chapter in his life: as pivotal to that as the song is within the project. A very stately & evocative track, it radiates a surprisingly calm dignity (not qualities often applicable to songs about mental health nor the effects of pharmaceuticals), it builds steadily to reflect the drug taking effect I imagine and as it progresses, the initial more jarring sounds and anguished vocals evolve into gentler tones of healing and salvation.

He describes his style as "subversive folk cinematic" and I think the current single bears this out: it's a deep subject yet you can picture what he is describing quite well after hearing the song. In terms of any affinity to style then as I have always been with the music of Tigermask, I don't find the challenge easy. It's solo work so he manages to say what he wants to say with the minimum of instrumental parts (which can more easily translate into live performances) though in the closing stages of "Mirtazapine" you get to hear guest vocals by Zoe Hobman as "Mother".  

Above all, I think my general conclusion is that as striking a song as "Mirtazapine" may be, and it will I hope stand on its own and gain airplay as such, its true meaning and significance will be enhanced by hearing it within the context of ‘Cocoon': potentially we are just missing so much more by hearing it alone. You can see why Pink Floyd didn't care for releasing singles off albums.

In the meantime, please look out too for the video which accompanies "Mirtazapine". It's at https://www.facebook.com/whoistigermask/videos/2724408587859195

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Tigermask live at The Town House

Review

I have to admit from the start that I found writing a review which captures the essence of Tigermask adequately, having seen him play at the Town House in Leamington last night, more of a challenge than for most of my articles for the magazine. His style is elusive: too slippery to easily pin down. I pondered long & hard during his two sets, looking for clues. I discussed the problem with other audience members & put the question to the artist himself: twice. This all helped, but only to an extent & so once again my advice is to go & see him yourselves to form your own opinions. You will probably do better than me...

I was advised by Jonny Roden of the Folly Brothers to check Tigermask out some months ago. I followed this advice but only caught his second set on that occasion having been to another gig at the far side of Leamington first. I enjoyed what I heard, was intrigued & felt then, as now, that writing a review was going to be difficult so have left it until I'd heard a full concert. Again I really enjoyed his music, but it was no easier to describe after twice the material than the first time. It's at moments like this that I am reminded of the helpful thought that "talking about music is like dancing about architecture" and realise that my words can never properly encapsulate the music I hear, though out of respect for the artists, I ought to try my hardest.

Playing an acoustic guitar & occasional harmonica, Tigermask has a very substantial catalogue of idiosyncratic original songs, augmented last evening, to suit the venue & crowd, with covers by the likes of Springsteen, Fred Neil & particularly Dylan.

He describes himself as "subversive folk cinematic" and certainly his lyrics are full of images & ideas, often on quite large canvasses, but not excluding the intimate in scale either. His demeanour is downbeat (he also admits to "introversion"), often against very lively if not assertive strumming, setting up effective dynamic contrasts. Though melodies crop up repeatedly, it is interesting how often his songs possess spines within them: either through deliberate compression of the vocal line to the point of a monotone or by drones within the guitar part: both of which add both to the dynamics & the sense of darkness.

The covers, instrumentation & lyrics would seem to give an easy route to me in likening him to Bob Dylan: but since he sounds absolutely nothing like him, such a path leads in the wrong direction.

It is worth noting that Tigermask, though relatively new to me, is really popular: on both occasions the venue was full, with most of the audience clearly people who had come to see him. There was a great deal of applause & loud approbation (the evening was weighted with the most upbeat material appearing later) yet one regular gig goer at the venue whose opinion I solicited noted how chilled she found the whole atmosphere...

 

This is a most interesting & unusual musician whom I hope you will enjoy, but one whose songs set you challenges (that is a compliment) and that alone lifts him far above the mundane.

 

As well as hopefully catching Tigermask live, you can hear him on ‘Ovum' which comes with a 26 page booklet of original artwork and lyrics.

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