Chamber pop artists have begun to form a symbiotic relationship lately. First, we had Grizzly Bear bassist, Chris Taylor, producing The Morning Benders' new album and now that band's frontman, Chris Chu, mans the boards for the second album by this Arizonan group. This information is critical to the understanding of Fortress, because it seems, at every turn, the album sonically borrows far too liberally from its producer's mainstay, and, ultimately, fails to carve out a definitive path for the band that made it. Not to say that Fortress is a bad album. I just found it incredibly frustrating how few times I could find a sound on Fortress I couldn't immediately trace back to The Morning Benders.
Reverberating percussion tumbles, harmonies disperse and, for the most part, Miniature Tigers go through the motions as they tentatively transitions from mid-tempo strummer to slightly less mid-tempo strummer. The best moments of Fortress are the ones that surprise, and there are only three moments where that genuinely happens. The first is in the piano interlude that begins "Lolita" before the band descends into business as usual. The second is the song title, "The Japanese Woman That Lives in My Closet", whose actual song doesn't come remotely close to living up to such a brilliantly ridiculous title (but, to be fair, only a clever black metal band could flesh out a song that would exploit that song's potential, properly.). The third is "Coyote Enchantment", whose female chanting of the title's first half is wistful, but, more, importantly, fun. I like the way the song's synth stabs puncture the album's omnipresent reverb, and it's a break in form that is much appreciated, even if it inspires more laughter than awe.
Fortress finds Miniature Tigers wearing their Shins and Morning Benders influence prominently on their sleeves, but the band has neither the harrowing vocal presence nor the believable sincerity of either. The band would be better served if they took more risks akin to the last couple tracks of Fortress. After all, we don't want to water down the mix too badly for the band that Miniature Tigers will inevitably produce in the future.