Release date: October 13, 2008 | Big Scary Monsters | Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Website
2000s emo is confusing sometimes. On the one hand us sad kids had arena rock emos like My Chemical Romance, who were very theatrical and larger than life in their teenage angst, and on the other, we had bands like TTNG, who followed more in the reserved ‘aw shucks‘ kind of emo as presented to the world by American Football et al. Needless to say I only gravitated towards the latter camp once I got some sense of self-reflection into my teen skull.
TTNG have been around for two decades now, which feels weird to think about (I’m getting old, I know), and their landmark recording has to be 2008’s Animals, a veritable exercise in gently brain-twisting yet gloriously emotional math rock-meets-emo music. It’s such a beloved staple that they released an acoustic version, recorded with their original vocalist Stuart Smith, for its 10th anniversary back in 2018. Now, in 2023, EIN is here to celebrate another 5 years down the road with this immaculate piece of art.
So here we are again at the start. As I sit here ready to engage in this retrospective, I get a mini mental whiplash and start thinking about how it really does feel as if I’ve stumbled upon “Chinchilla” just mere days ago. Not sure if this is a testament to my love for Animals or to the timelessness of the song and album in general – whatever may be the case, this is a record that holds a special place in my heart, and is always a pleasure to revisit and soak in all its emotionally despairing and musically mind-blowing splendor.
It should be a safe bet to mention that British rock trio TTNG have become a household name within the math rock genre. In all the conversations I’ve taken part in, both online and amongst friends, we held the band in very high regards and showed nothing but admiration towards them, and I would wager that it’s all thanks to their debut offering. For many including myself, Animals was the proper entry point for this ever so slightly misunderstood (and now heavily memed) subgenre. Digging deeper, however, the album demonstrated just how dynamic and sincere math rock can be, tastefully massaging the angularity of the instrumentation with wistful melodies that convey much emotion while still being technically impressive, all distilled through expressive and insanely catchy songwriting.
I had mentioned “Chinchilla” earlier as it was my introduction to TTNG, and goddamn what an introduction the song was – high school never felt so rad before having been exposed to that iconic riff and drum snare-ride bell combo. The sonic wizardry juxtaposed with the emo-tinged vocals was simply attractive to me right from the get-go, being immediately sold after finding out that the rest of Animals followed this very trend. Take for instance “Pig”, another song off the record that has stayed with me throughout the years with its cutting musical passages that are borderline prog, only brought to life by a palpable vocal performance: anguished but always leaning more towards being real rather than obnoxious. Additionally, I’ve lost count of how many times I mentally quote the opening lines of the track on my daily doings. What? They are even referenced at the very beginning of this write-up? Nonsense.
You could say that Animals came to me at the right moment and at the right time – I was in the midst of a prog/indie rock phase back then and the album just so happened to have the perfect blend of both stylings. But I would also contend that there’s longevity to it; I’m able to pinpoint different events on my life where the record resonated with me because of its emotional relevancy or simply because I found new ways of musically appreciating it. The lyrical game on songs like “Panda” and “Badger” is strikingly honest and seamless once you take the time to read them, while the sonic vulnerability on cuts such as “Crocodile” and “Zebra” are truly beautifully composed and with a tact rarely heard from similar acts, especially given the fact that its release was a whopping 15 years ago.
You simply don’t come across a record like Animals so easily but when you do, it hits instantly. Gorgeous, technical, and surprisingly accessible, what TTNG have accomplished here deserves every inch of respect and it’s ecstatic to see how their praises have deservedly been sung in recent years. Familiar or not with math rock, Animals should absolutely be on your queue – this is one of those albums that are bound to instantly become your favorite after listening to it, and one you will be revisiting fondly for years to come.
Dylan Nicole Lawson
When most people I know speak about emo math rock, usually one of the first names or places they mention as their point of discovery is maybe American Football, or something of the like. Animals was actually the very first album I’d heard in the genre, ages ago, in my early years of high school. Given the antecedent legacy of Midwestern emo acts and math rock-adjacent household names seen and heard long before this 2008 debut release, it seems almost odd for this to be my first impressions; But hey, This Town Needs Guns was no less a welcoming gateway.
From even the opening track, “Pig”, setting the tone for an emotional, yet musically complex wonderland of melody and rhythm, I knew this album was gonna be a treat. Being more on the tinge of a ‘metal dude’ around this time, it wasn’t uncommon for me to branch out (used to be the one on the bus who could rock a Faceless or Cerebral Bore tee shirt and still have Tegan & Sara going in my ear buds), but this was still a lot different than most things I’d listened to before. The opening line alone hits in a way that, even back then, had a sort of impact on me:
‘So here we are again at the start, Let’s get stuck These rooms are all reminders of you.’
The animal theme, naming tracks after various natural beings, was also a winner for me. I found myself getting quickly wrapped up in songs like “Panda”, “Elk” (which was one I specifically remember having on repeat), and “Zebra” and all their mathy glory. I’d listened to plenty of tech death metal, virtuoso guitarists, and general shredding and weedly-deedly guitar bro music up to this point – so complex guitars were usually not something I found much emotion in outside of ‘wow, that’s pretty cool!’ So to hear something like this with that advanced sort of song structure and feel like my heart had been both warmed and broken in one sitting, well, that was truly a different experience by all accounts.
It’s been awhile since I’ve put this record on, and writing this and listening back tells me it’s time to give it some re-listening time. Notice I said that in a plural since, because this is like a fine bag of tasty chips – can’t have just one! In my opinion, Animals has a timeless quality to it. That may be the nostalgia of when I heard it and what it meant to me, to some effect or another, but I like to imagine that it is attributed purely to the songwriting prowess of all involved in TTNG.
I’m sure some other writers discussing Animals today have more of a sentimental attachment to TTNG and this record. It might be interesting to weigh in as someone who doesn’t.
Their earlier name largely delayed my exposure to TTNG. As a pacifist and Canadian, I figured a band with such a name would not be for me. But I was immediately blown away when I heard Animals Acoustic when it was released in 2018. The impression this acoustic record had on me inspired me to give TTNG a chance, and I was again astounded by their 2008 debut.
It took me a while to get into math rock, but TTNG’s debut stood out in my early introduction to the genre. It seems like they used the foundation of clean guitar wizardry, confessional lyrics, and occasional horns American Football built nearly a decade earlier and brought a new level of technicality and polish to the approach. But to say Animals is a derivative of American Football would be misleading. The group brings in appreciation for an array of orchestral elements (“Zebra”, with its strings and xylophone), jazz (“Panda” or “Gibbon”), progressive rock/metal (I hear some Tool influences in the rhythmic choices in the record), and emo (Stuart Smith’s delivery and melodies evoke comparisons to Death Cab for Cutie and The Dear Hunter to my ears).
Animals’ 15 songs and 55 minutes move the record along quickly, maintaining my interest with its concision and movement while crafting a cohesive, melancholic atmosphere to hold the album together. That a band’s debut arrived so maturely and masterfully, especially in a newly emerging and technical subgenre, is incredibly impressive. As a guitarist, the complete lack of distortion to mask any shortcomings in these intricate performances is intimidating. At the same time, Tim Collis’ compositions don’t come across as showy so much as they serve the emotional, reflective weight of these songs in exceptionally creative ways.
The legacy of Animals stands for itself – I can hear this album’s unique approach to melody, rhythm, and emo music echo in bands as diverse as Dance Gavin Dance, Eidola, and Thank You Scientist, among many others. While I regret not listening to this record earlier, it’s exciting to get to hear it amidst the influence it has had since its release 15 years ago.