Probably the most well-known of the UBA crowd thus far (also, anyone whose friends with me either knew about them before me or has had me recommend them), New York four-piece As Tall As Lions (or ATAL to their devotees) are quite honestly one of the best bands going these days. The recent release of third full-length album You Can’t Take It With You will hopefully give the groups a bit more publicity, because they richly deserve it. Formed initially in 2001 by high-school friends, the band have spent the last 8 years cultivating a distinctive sound full of well-tempered orchestration, thumping drum riffs and the astonishing voice of frontman Dan Nigro.
I first got into ATAL about 4 years ago just as their second album (more on that later) was about to be released. Debut record Lafcadio wasn’t a jaw-dropper but featured four or five excellent tracks that piqued my interest and ensured my acquisition of second album As Tall As Lions. Ever since I first listened to the eponymous record I’ve been a big fan, and the new album has only cemented ATAL as one of my favourite bands.
The second album, regarded by pretty much everyone as their best, is perhaps the best alternative record to grace the musical world in the last 5 years. One of very few albums which does not feature a weak link, it’s truly a game-changer and completely took over my stereo for about a year. It’s a beast of an album and essential for pretty much anyone who likes music. Lead single ‘Love Love Love (Love Love)’ is a blockbuster of a track which brilliantly encompasses their sound, but to say it’s the best track on the album does the rest of the songs a disservice. Tunes like ‘Ghosts of York’, ‘Milk and Honey’ and ‘Song for Luna’ are nearly flawless, exhibiting the band’s talent and Nigro’s gift for songwriting.
Indeed, it’s Nigro’s vocals which really push the band into top gear when they’re changing tone or building to a song’s finale. I’d probably say that he has the best voice in alternative music outside of maybe Circa Survive’s Anthony Green; it’s not simply the acrobatic high notes he reaches, it’s the emotion and power lurking in the quieter moments, and Nigro is just as good at sounding sincere as he is at blowing the blahdy doors off (to quote a phrase).
Recent release You Can’t Take It With You doesn’t, unfortunately, get to the same levels that its predecessor does, but it’s still an excellent album that is miles above many of ATAL’s competitors. A few not-so-good tracks do make it on but the best ones are still brilliant and show what the band is capable of when firing on all cylinders.
So why are As Tall As Lions so good? Well the aforementioned singer has a good deal to do with it, but the rest of the band are just as good. Drummer Cliff Sarcona is an excellent anchor who is not afraid to go for broke, and often sets up the group’s best tracks for Nigro to blast into a chorus or hook: his beats drive the songs without overwhelming them, and he knows how and when to sit back and allow guitarist Saen Fitzgerald (not a misspell, actually his name) and bassist Julio Tavarez space to open songs out, which they too do excellently.
ATAL at their best can simply take a song onto a level that most other bands cannot: they’re a gifted group who can shift from tender to anthemic to orchestral in a single track. Far from the overblown musical theatrics of say, Muse, ATAL are just as happy being reserved as being outlandish, and can break your heart or blast your ears depending on mood. The more I think about my initial top 5 list in Tucson, the more I regret not including ATAL in it. Truly spectacular.
Sickest tracks: ‘The Carousel’, ‘Break Blossom’ from Lafcadio, the entirety (yep really) of As Tall As Lions, ‘Breakers’, ‘Into the Flood’ from Into the Flood (EP), ‘In Case of Rapture’, ‘The Narrows’, ‘Is This Tomorrow?’ from You Can’t Take It With You.
If you like this, you’ll also like: Dear and the Headlights – Small Steps, Heavy Hooves, Minus The Bear – Highly Refined Pirates, The Snake The Cross The Crown – Cotton Teeth.