REVIEW: Mary Timony – Untame the Tiger (Merge Records)

Raw guitars. Raging riffs. Harsh lyrics. And unbearable itching in the ears. Mary Timony, renowned for a bunch of already iconic projects, including HeliumWild Flag, and Ex Hex, knows how to squeeze bold and deceptively familiar sounds from her guitar. It’s not for nothing that she was included in Rolling Stone’s list of the 250 greatest guitarists of all time. Yet, her fourth solo effort is very fragile, soul-baring, and melancholic.

“Just want this summer to never fade / But why do dreams always break that way”, she asks a rhetorical question in ‘Summer’  and continues in ‘The Dream’“I, I had a dream that nothing was really real”. There is also a line reminiscent of ‘The Sound of Silence’  in ‘The Guest’“Hello, loneliness, come back home / You are the only one who never left me alone”. This time, almost 20 years after her previous record Ex Hex and after long and successful experiments with fantasy narratives on the first two albums, her lyrics have become especially bold, realistic, and straight to the point, which tangibly helps to bring ornate guitar snarls up front.

Fairy tales with lore, consisting of “pilgrims”, “goblins”, and “demons” are now gone, with a significant part of Timony’s soul as she lost her parents during the work on this record and survived a hard breakup. If you re-listen to all her previous solo works, it becomes obvious how far she has moved from that type of lyricism, sound, and mood. Over these years, she has made a great leap from Tolkien/Martin-indebted poetically-charged passages to, say, Fitzgerald or even Capote-like minutiae of life, from chopped, loud, buoyant, and quite minimalistic guitar chords to atmospheric, volumetric, and layered riffs, which are conspicuous right from the opener ‘No Thirds’

One way or another, words and vocals are only a framing for Timony’s six-string self-expression. In comparison with, for instance, Joe Satriani or Steve Vai, she also knows how to write invigorating and self-sufficient rock chants in the vein of her friends and colleagues Sleater-Kinney, but labyrinthine, wriggling, and elastic guitar parts do the most work. Each track of the album is colored with hooky and evocative guitar licks. The slightly psychedelic ‘Looking for the Sun’  mixes folksy strums with baroque strings and St. Vincent motives. ‘The Guest’ instantly evokes almost Tarantino soundtrack-worthy tunes alongside ’60s vibes, halfway turning into a woozy ballad. ‘The Dream’  easily mixes ‘House of the Rising Sun’  with Fleetwood Mac’s romanticism.


Untame the Tiger is extremely itchy, and everything you do during the listening is trying to tame your own itch for remembering where you’ve heard all these dozens of iconic rock tunes. Although the answer is: you didn’t. Because in just under 40 minutes, Timony gracefully speeds at a low level over the huge heritage of all those 250 greatest guitarists, managing not to touch the ground even once.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.