With a name like Nanobot Rock Reviews, one could expect thoughts on a hyper-specific genre of music. We have listened and written about rock, punk, metal, indie, hip-hop, circuit bent, even R&B. I haven’t crossed into country music, because I’m pretty sure my review would just be the words country and ‘merica maniacally scribbled 500 times over.
I bring this up because when Rin Tin Tiger approached us to review their self-titled EP, they used the subject line: [San Francisco] Alt Folk. As someone who has written two reviews recently about how rock is back, this seemed like, well… an abrupt change of pace seems to be the right word. What is Alt Folk? Alternative rock was a movement against large corporate record companies, and contemporary folk was a movement against the establishment. This would leave one to believe that Rin Tin Tiger is single-handedly fighting off the establishment and giant record companies.
It is that, or they are putting out a catchy version of folk rock that is sweet, honest and never self-indulgent. Either way, they’re bringing harmonica back. Their EP is an energetically charged acoustic set that passes by too quickly and easily to play several times in one sitting without the songs ever getting old. The brothers Sullivan handle strings and vocals; Kevin takes main vocals and guitar while Sean handles the bass. Andrew Skewes-Cox backs them up on drums and keeps the songs at a crisp march. Turns out Alt Folk is more like rock than the name lets on.
Vocal comparisons between singer/guitarist Kevin Sullivan and Colin Meloy are inevitable, especially on “Red Pony,” but the harmonies and musical stylings keep Rin Tin Tiger arms-length from emulating the Decemberists. “Far Away,” a guitar and vocal love poem is saccharine and has the strangest adjective I have ever heard and led me to ask to myself what are doe-y eyes? Was that supposed to be doe eyes or did the subject have eyes like the Pillsbury Dough Boy? The strongest tracks bookend the EP; “Ghost Door” shows that folk can be spirited, danceable and fun while “Sweetest Fruit” shows the group knows how to masterfully close out an album. The final track captures the emotion of a live set in their studio recording with a buildup of feeling that closes with tender harmonies.
Rin Tin Tiger has put out a solid release that is sure to generate interest in the alt-folk scene and their live playing abilities. It has led me to a sub genre of music that music that gives fighting the status quo a really fun soundtrack. Discover their unique sound for yourself.