It’s often asserted by non-musicians that “truly great songwriting is based in emotional honesty.” This grotesque oversimplification completely sidelines the technical demands of the craft, leading many to the conclusion that all one needs is “three chords and the truth” (in the words of the great Harlan Howard), and you’re good to go. There are more than enough masterpieces based on total lyrical fantasy (David Bowie, anyone?!) to refute this trite thesis; however, occasionally artists who do have technical control decide that the time is right to level with their audiences. And the results, are spellbinding.
For Flyte, ‘Easy Tiger‘ is a retreat into introversion. The band’s expansive debut (2017’s The Loved Ones) was densely populated by literary references, character sketches and bombastic baroque-and-roll orchestral arrangements, and yet on this song we’re given only minimalist scraps like “Find your new man a matching outfit/ Post a picture so I know.” The meaning is plain, there’s no abstraction or deeper layers, and yet somehow ‘Easy Tiger’ is penetrating and lingering. Will Taylor is evidently in a bad place; the overwhelming taste I am left with is horrifyingly bitter after processing lines like “I heard his old man’s a famous actor/ Does he help you with your lines?” You’re reminded of your own experiences with romantic heartbreak; the jealousy and the narcissism – imagining scenarios, things being done specifically to hurt you and so on… Of course, the objective reality is usually that 90% or more of this mental wrangling is egotistical fantasy, but the great truth that Taylor manages to access in ‘Easy Tiger’ is that the pain is no-less real, even though it may be self-inflicted.
The musical reference points for ‘Easy Tiger’ are simple enough to observe – take a healthy dose of early Elliott Smith (Roman Candle), combine with some Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-style lofi production and spice with a dash of Rocket-era (Sandy) Alex G. These elements likely reflect Flyte’s current geography, having intensively criss-crossed heartland America on a tour with Jade Bird. The song itself is absurdly simple in its construction. There’s a verse, a chorus that’s melodically identical to the verse, these elements repeat, then there’s an outro where the final plaintive line “This is really going to hurt” is repeated.
All these fragments play out over a ticking-clock ostinato, on top of which sits an enigmatically finger-picked acoustic guitar line. The density of the arrangement increases linearly and relentlessly as the song hurtles towards its conclusion – staccato strings and broken glass piano reverberate with increasing feedback, bouncing around the inside of my skull just like Taylor’s jealous fantasies, all the while kick-drum pounding like a carotid artery supplying the blood that keeps the feeling flowing.
Full credit must be given to the supporting members of Flyte, Jon Supran and Nick Hill for resisting the temptation to imprint too much of their respective instrumental prowess on ‘Easy Tiger.’ Both slip effortlessly into supporting roles, understanding the power that their restraint has on Taylor’s confession. The temptation must have been there to take the song “bigger” at the finale, yet climactic cliches are given short shrift, in favour of a laser-like focus on the raw emotional content of the song.
It’s this emotional and sonic complexity from simple elements that catches you unawares and leaves you feeling so gobsmacked. You think you know this song at first listen, but you do not – it’s ultimately an unheeded warning. Whilst he may be a survivor, Taylor knows that he desperately needs to “Go easy, tiger,” but like all of us in some shape or form, he also knows he will inevitably be unable to follow his own advice.
I would have liked to end the review there, however I would be remiss had I neglected to mention the accompanying music video, directed by British experimental filmmaker Mark Jenkin (Bait, 2019; The Midnight Drives, 2007). Jenkin’s profile couldn’t be higher at the moment after Bait was named Mark Kermode’s favourite film of the decade, and the results of his spectacular innovations with intentionally degraded film and physical editing couldn’t be more suited to the loft aesthetic of ‘Easy Tiger.’ I’d go so far as to say that the full effect of the song can only be appreciated in conjunction with its visual complement. If you do one thing today, watch this video and lose yourself in this song with the help of a good pair of headphones.
‘Easy Tiger’ is out now via Island Records – available to Stream/Purchase here.
Photo Credit: Sequoia Ziff