My first draft of this review was rather heavily focused on the oddness of Josiah Smith’s vocals. I have since realised that this was completely pointless – it’s like going to see the Pyramids and complaining about the colour. To reduce Lions to a single component is to do an incredibly talented and exciting band a complete disservice, so let me end this now: Smith’s voice is actually brilliant.
Put rather simplistically Lions play emo-tinged math rock, stylistically complex, yet absorbing rather than self indulgent – the guitar lines never outstay their welcome. An immediately obvious reference point is This Town Needs Guns – and the similarities are evident: the schizophrenically beautiful guitar work, the emo influenced vocals and the crazy yet perfectly complimentary drumming. This Town Needs Guns, though, often border on the cheerlessly bland, sounding at times like a band who don’t quite know how to finish a song, Lions, on the other hand, make me want to dance, and then cry a little bit, and smile and dance some more! Every single track on MTNZ is brim-full of ideas – from the indie-punk undertones of ‘King of the Casket’ to the Minus the Bear-a-like ‘Dear October’, there is something to hang on to in every single track, be it a beautiful vocal melody or a blistering guitar line. It is truly impressive how Lions consistently manage to grab your attention, despite some elements of MTNZ being entirely familiar – I could list a whole number of obvious influences, but it is ultimately irrelevant – Lions have made this sound their own. Without wanting to place them on too high a pedestal, most of the math-rock/pop I listen to from this point onward will be automatically compared with Lions.
Lyrically, too, Lions are brilliant, written with honesty, packed with sentiment – constantly reminding us that underneath it all, we’re all the same. We are all slaves to our own emotions. “I’m starting to regret the promises I’ve made to you. I’m starting to regret falling in love again with you”. There’s something of a playful innocence to Lions’ lyrics – there is no over-thinking, just brutal honestly, and this genuinely helps you connect to MTNZ. When I think of some of my favourite albums of all time, namely Pinkerton and Deja Entendu, I wonder if my opinion of the album would be the same were the lyrics less involving – and I am certain it wouldn’t. Listen to MTNZ, read the lyrics (they’re available on their Bandcamp page here), and feel everything.
It’s rather easy to forget that this is a band right at the beginning of their career, easy to forget, but awfully exciting. After listening to pretty much nothing but Lions for the last couple of hours, I’m not ashamed to say that I’m in love. I’m now listening to MTNZ for the fifth straight time, not because I am still writing this review – but because it is genuinely one of my new favourite records. For me, right now, Lions have created a winning formula – a perfect blend of emotion, math-influenced time signatures, evocative lyrics, and ceaselessly exceptional musicianship. Very high praise and not an ounce of hyperbole, Lions are brilliant.
The Tennessee four piece released MTNZ themselves in March in a pay-what-you-want deal was incredibly well received, with well over a thousand downloads in the months since its release. MTNZ has been re-mastered and is now being pressed to vinyl for the first time by the wonderful Enjoyment Records, and it must be said the vinyl looks rather stunning – it’s available in either clear/purple or purple glitter and compliments the artwork magnificently.
You can listen to Lions here: http://wearelions.bandcamp.com/album/mtnz-ep
You can buy MTNZ from here: http://www.enjoymentrecords.bigcartel.com/
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