Four guys dressed in geek chic apparel strike various poses around a two-seat sofa for what is an awkwardly staged group photo. It’s the first time that the faces behind Brooklyn’s synth pop band Miniature Tigers have graced their album cover, and it’s an interesting change. It’s also one that begs the question: are Miniature Tigers a boy band for adults?
If you’ve heard “Cannibal Queen” or “Easy As All That”, you know that Miniature Tigers can do a pop song with the best of them, whether the stroke-inducing riff comes courtesy of a guitar-and-drums match made in heaven or glistening synths that twinkle on and on. Cruel Runnings locks Miniature Tigers in the direction that they’ve taken on their previous record, Mia Pharaoh, where the further use of synths cames with a much more noticeable pop structure. And it might be because this four-piece is so good at exploring pop through dreamy synths that we have Charlie Brand and co. in suspenders, rolled up cuffs, and pastel pink cardigans to serve as a visual reminder of the soulful dorkiness that they really go with on this record.
Miniature Tigers are a band of clean-cut crooners that are at their best with lyrics that hint at a deeper meaning beyond the surface, and exhilarating, soaring synths that scream distraction and fun at your eardrums.
“Swimming Pool Blues”, one of the first singles released off of Cruel Runnings, hearkens back to the type of songs that Miniature Tigers first came out with, where rippling riffs would carry tracks on the weight of their delectably sweet sound. It’s also a song that could have been performed by the likes of any number of indie pop bands signed to Neon Gold Records. Miniature Tigers are ultimately catchier than ever on Cruel Runnings, but this comes at the expense of losing a bit of personality. “Sadistic Kisses”, “Selfish Girl”, and “I Can’t Stop” have universal appeal with their inoffensive feel-good air, but they start to fall flat like the inevitable crash after a sugar high.
That’s due, in large part, to how stuffed the record is with resplendent pop singles like “Used To Be The Shit”, “Dream Girl”, and “Frazier Ave” that raise the bar. Rick Schaier no longer sings in a detached and blasé manner, but rather sappily: “Somehow, I’ve lost that girl of mine, and we just can’t remember how it used to be.” Miniature Tigers have a lot in common with TV Girl, another synth pop act that has made similar decisions in vocals and keys. But while TV Girl’s songs about relationships have quips that hit home, Miniature Tigers’ lyrics are often memorable because they are awkwardly squeezed to fit into the meter, such as when Schaier makes the 90s reference, “Our love was worn like a VHS tape of Aladdin. Now our love’s so cold, laser disc of Cruel Intentions.” There is a divide between poignancy and corniness in “Used To Be The Shit” that work well together, and it’s a pretty funny song when you consider that it’s about a guy completely devastated about the fact that his girlfriend treats him like a normal person.
“Dream Girl” is a euphorically tropical serenade with the promise, “I’m never going to let you go,” while “Frazier Ave”, as the closer, is sublime with an almost festive quality to it. “Oblivious” triumphantly blasts retro synths that are simultaneously fat and light. Likewise, “Better Apart” sounds evocatively like the 80s with its jubilant if repetitive chorus.
In thirty-three minutes, Miniature Tigers gives pop a good name.