5 out of 5
Produced by: Rob Kleiner, Neal Ostrovsky
Label: The End Records
There was a longer pause than usual, the regular shuffling of non-Gibson / Kleiner personnel, a label change, and then – album released – an incredibly cheap looking album cover. Something about this wait and presentation suggested changes to one of my favorite bands; putting on the disc for the first time confirmed it: If there was a version of selling out for Tub Ring, the edges-rounded-off sound of Filter would seem to be it. And yet… If you’re planning on selling out (y’know, that being step X of your clearly defined life plan), let this album – and probably Mastodon’s Blood Mountain – be your template for how to do it while maintaining your integrity, and somehow also delivering one of the best products of your career.
Fair warning: It takes a boat-load of inherent talent to pull that off, so, uh, if you don’t have that, I wish you and your contract-signing, fan-swaying aims the best.
Also: The End Records ain’t exactly Capitol, so while the band bristles at my description (undoubtedly waiting for this review several years after they’d released the album), let me clarify that this was in no way TR actually selling out, but rather learning to evolve their sound to match the creators’ presumably evolving tastes. And so it’s less spazzy, and less punky, and I hear more Thrilwell-circusy sound manipulations than ever before, but it’s still very, very much Tub Ring.
The Great Filter is a rock album. Keys are still a primary component to the group’s sound, but from the kick-off of the guitar and drum roll of opener ___ – which could be seen as a winky riff on the surf guitar antics of classic track ‘Faster’ – the compositional shift is apparent. Fittingly, the lyrical content moves away from percolating paranoia and science musings toward more rounded contemplations on interpersonal things, as filtered through Gibson’s inventive parlance. And although the herky-jerk may be toned down, the reason this in no way equates to a sacrifice of quality is that the scope of sounds swallowed up and repurposed by the album are massive, and yet it flows effortlessly from track to track. As mentioned, there’s a latter-day Foetus-vibe to the playful electronics and lullaby/circus-esque themes, but its the spirit of things and not a copy; this is absolutely Tub Ring’s jam and none other.
While I could wish for slightly sharper production, the exciting sequencing and plethora of catchiness overcomes the mish-mash of some tracks’ mixes. And an indirect plus side to this is that the album isn’t so anarchic sounding that it needs a pause between listens, in case you’re in the mood for a repeat (…which I often am).
Great Filter might lack the Ask Me About My Favorite Band frenzy of their previous releases, and a precursory listen might worry you that “they’ve changed.” Which they did. But whatever the reason or cause, it resulted in a release that felt newly inspired, updating the group’s ideas and themes for what made sense at that point. Thankfully, what made sense was an excellent album from start to finish, with a sound and songs that endure repeat listens years on.