TTNG – ‘Disappointment Island’ Review

Posted: by Nick

TTNG are defined by their playful yet impressive approach to progressive music, namely in their command over shifting time signatures, unconventional song structures, and unexpected phrasing. If there is another defining trait to this group it’s their history, one replete with lineup shifts that have led them to their current three-piece status. Despite these changes, the band has remained recognizable, thanks in part to the team of Chris and Tim Collis, the latter of whom has been the band’s sole enduring member. Long hailed as one of the best bands in ‘math rock’ – a genre label that only marginally describes their music (not to mention one the band has claimed little love for) – TTNG have carved out a unique space for themselves, and on their second outing in this iteration, have never sounded more like a cohesive unit. 

With three strong individual voices driving towards a common goal, TTNG have crafted a collection of thoughtful songs so thoroughly representative of their collective character that new ears may have difficulty keeping up. But for the majority of their long-time fans, and for any interested parties willing to go along with their earnest yet esoteric style, there is much waiting to be unearthed on Disappointment Island.

The first two singles from the record start things off on a note of energy and optimism. “Coconut Crab” is a catchy, refreshing tune that still manages to convey emotional urgency, and “A Chase of sorts” is an aptly named exercise in the band’s alluring dexterity. Immediately one feels as though they are in the room with the group, feeding off the energy that propels them through every twist and turn. However, this brief foray into somewhat playful territory is followed by a string of softer, slower songs – whose rhythm and mood comes to define the album even more than its singles.

Henry Tremain solidifies himself as a fully-fledged member of this group, allowing his character, both vocal and instrumental, to shine through on every song, though his presence looms especially large over the gentler tracks. “Consoling Ghosts” harkens back to his previous work in bands like Pennines, and while his unique voice never felt compromised in previous collaborations with the band, it has never been more strongly felt. This is in part because the Collis brothers are able to make room for his style while letting their own distinct instrumental voices seep into, but never outshine, Tremain’s perspective. “Bliss Quest” is a meditation on the softer side of the group’s character, and alongside tracks like “Whatever, Whenever” boast an originality with few parallels in their earlier work. “Destroy The Tabernacle” is a standout track for its killer bass riffs and dissonant chord hits that showcase an aggression that enhances rather than defies the overall mood of the record. This is, in so many ways, a different band than the one that gave us There is no sense of transition here as there was before, no push and pull, no tension between who this band was and who they are becoming. There is only this new, incredibly confident and controlled entity, which may contain elements of projects past, but exists as a thing completely unto itself. This is TTNG fully formed.

Tim Collis is, as ever, an enigmatic force. His singular guitar work, pulling from and defying tropes of the genres that inspire him, is reliably exceptional. He doesn’t seem in so much of a hurry as on previous records, but rather comfortable letting his fingers either dash or soothe depending on the meaning behind each moment, and for that reason has never better served his own songwriting. Experimentation with new sounds, including some lucid tremolo and snarling distortion, feel earned and necessary, while his signature finger picked style, though instantly recognizable, remains bracing. Chris Collis turns in the performances of his career throughout this album. While his past performances as well as those of his comrades are first-rate, Chris steps up in a way he never has before, weaving skillful paths through complex tunes that never feel out of control in his capable hands. Consider as you listen that this album was recorded live to tape, and you may find your jaw has made its way slowly to the floor. 

The curiously titled “Sponkulus Nodge” and “There’s No “I” In Time” (two instant personal favorites) are outstanding moments, with particularly strong chorus hooks, that continue the momentum of a record that never seems to give way to filler. All traces of segue and instrumental noodling, which greatly defined the structure of the previous album, are gone and supplanted by fully formed tracks that deliver one after the other. It’s difficult to find a track on this record that cannot stand alone, and yet each song builds on and relates to those that surround it, making for a gratifying straight-through listening experience. In an age of singles, this is an album that works best when consumed in the long play form its creators intended.

This record – like most great records – repays multiple listens and close attention. TTNG’s music has never been something to be thrown on in the background, never a moment made to be ignored. Their compositions are challenging, and that is precisely what has garnered them so much reverence, especially among musicians. While, at a glance, the album may seem to be lacking the intensity and vital urgency of an album like Animals, there is an ocean of feeling lurking beneath the surface. It is a more introspective journey, and demonstrates a more thoughtful approach to yearning and confusion. On Disappointment Island, TTNG seem both brave and yet at home, and its story is a dynamically compelling testament to where this band has been – each step along the way contributing to their arrival at a new, never disappointing, destination. 



You can grab the record digitally on Bandcamp or on vinyl at Sargent House Records.