Mary Timony, “Untame the Tiger”
By Elle Carroll · February 20, 2024 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Shirt,

For a musician and guitarist as sonically distinct and well-respected as Mary Timony, it’s somewhat remarkable that she hasn’t released a record under anything resembling her own name since The Mary Timony Band’s The Shapes We Make in 2007. That’s not to say that she was absent, of course. She spent most of the 2010s fronting the garage-ified power pop trio Ex Hex, and the band’s instant-classic 2014 debut Rips remains among her finest work.

Untame the Tiger has precious little in common with Rips—or, for that matter, with Careening by Hammered Hulls, the group she joined as bassist in 2019; or with most anything she has released in the last 20-odd years. Instead it’s an inward-turning, folk-ish midtempo rock record that is as much a solo album as it is a solitary one. Written over the course of two years in which she cared for and eventually buried both her parents and ended a long-term relationship, it makes no secret of its tenuous grip on no-longer-presumably-settled reality. There are no flashes of punk fury. She is comparatively mild-mannered here, eager to explore expanded production space, longer songs, and extended lyrical metaphors. The veil, it seems, is thinner than ever—between the expanses of her emotions and the world outside, between waking and dreaming, and between past and present and an uncertain future.

Album opener “No Thirds” is mid-‘70s radio rock with horizon-wide proportions, over which strange images of “an abandoned graveyard on sacred ground” and “a cross on your life line” float. Freak folk influences—shored up, no doubt, by the steadying presence of Fairport Convention drummer Dave Mattacks—play out across her newly pastoral lyrics, the elongated psychedelic stretches of “Looking For The Sun,” and the meandering finger-plucked riff of “Not the Only One.”

Nature permeates everything: cold moons, silver pools, endless summers, “the violence of spring,” and “the sun on my face through an open door.” Emotions are, in turn, dead leaves, a waterfall, and a river in her mind. Loneliness is a friend with claws. Devotion is a soft place to land. Time is a garden. But for all Timony’s metaphors, she tends to finish her verses with phrases marked by plainspoken honesty, never more so than amidst the otherwise bright acoustic pep of the title track: “What did I get for loving you? Nothing but pain.”

Timony’s music has long possessed a quality of indefatigable youthfulness. Untame the Tiger, however, feels ageless, not only in the scope of its influences but in the vitality and discipline of its songwriting, both qualities the product of decades of experience. The lesson of Untame the Tiger is not that there exists a straight line between suffering and good art. The lesson is that suffering uncovers new emotional plains within ourselves, and in traversing those plains, one may sometimes find fertile ground for creation. Timony most certainly did.

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