TONY BENNETT: Another solid showing in Trampled’s ‘Wild Animals’
With regard to the Twin Ports music scene, history will surely divide the last 10 or so years into the pre- and post-Trampled By Turtles eras. Before them, the only banjos in town were tucked away in cases under older folks’ beds. Now, every other band has a banjo player and/or a fiddle player, and drummers are seemingly being abducted by aliens to the point where they’re nearly extinct. Point is, Trampled By Turtles got huge.
Not even “Duluth huge.” Just huge-huge. They toured and toured, and now they play on Letterman and have giant festivals and hang out with My Morning Jacket. They make Low — previously Duluth’s hugest band for many years — seem modestly beloved. TBT came around at a time when bluegrass and roots music became a mainstream concern, right when Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers and a lot of other groups started playing arenas. The time was right, and TBT caught a heck of a wave. The hippies and the hipsters
(hippiesters?) latched onto the group, and the movement was on.
“Wild Animals,” the band’s new release, comes at a crucial point in their careers. It’s one of those albums that comes after a long run of beloved releases and tours. It’s the first one after the live album, and live albums always seem to signify an era ending, being preserved in amber, and a transition happening.
Here, it seems like the transition is from the all-out, breakneck bluegrass of the early TBT to the more adult, the more ethereal. It’s probably an album that TBT fans will either find to be the band’s “Kid A,” or the place where they started feeling betrayed by their heroes. So it goes.
The music here is dreamy and ghostly, lush and glowing. Produced by Low’s Alan Sparhawk, it leans more toward that group’s cinematic dirges than it does to the metal-tinged blue-core that TBT came out of the gate with. This isn’t to say that the fleet-footed stuff isn’t here — “Come Back Home” and “Western World” are both barnburners — but the majority of the record is poppy, fairly ballady, and kinda rainy-day.
Something like “Repetition” is so sweet to barely be bluegrass at all, actually edging closer to a lush Beach Boys track than something from the Ralph Stanley songbook. “Ghosts” is a trembling waltz that Elliott Smith might have recorded, had he had an affinity for the mandolin.
“Lucy” gets into a sound that almost could lead the band into playing shows with shoegazey bands like Beach House — on this one, the banjo plucks are a mile apart, rather than coming fast and furious.
“Wild Animals” is packed with great singin’ and great playin’. These guys are a tight unit, with well-defined roles and experimental spirits. Whether this release broadens their horizons and wins them new fans (or retains their old ones), time will tell. But for Trampled By Turtles, it’s another solid showing from one of the biggest bands to ever come from Duluth.