Trampled by Turtles drop the bluegrass bit on new album, Wild Animals

Trampled by Turtles drop the bluegrass bit on new album, Wild Animals
Photo by Zoran Orlic

Trampled by Turtles just released the first single from their seventh studio album, Wild Animals, and it's a bit of a departure. Recorded earlier this year at Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls with production by Low's Alan Sparhawk, "Are You Behind the Shining Star?" pushes the band further into the gray areas between the genres they've been bending for the past decade.

No, it's not ear-splitting drone. But it sure isn't the polyrhythmic, barn-busting pickin' that the band has built their name around either. Instead, Dave Simonett's acoustic guitar guides this echoing melody. If there's a banjo in there, it's almost indiscernible.

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The song first made the rounds earlier this year via Simonett's solo release, the Razor Pony EP.  Like a sped-up Sparklehorse song, this version of "Star?" mixes alt-country crunch with interstellar pedal work, and shows the TBT frontman cutting away from a frequently folk-flavored realm.

"A month before the latest Trampled record, I only had four songs," Simonett told Gimme Noise earlier this year. "We needed a record. So I started writing like crazy. I would just write everything. The more I write, the more good stuff I can get. It just gets your mind in that zone."

For Wild Animals, out July 15, the group has an opportunity to transform as a different sort of live act by the time they host their Festival Palomino at Canterbury Park on September 20. With the Head and the Heart, Low, Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Field Report, the Apache Relay, Spirit Family Reunion, and Erik Koskinen on the bill, having material with more of a rock edge seems ideal for the day.

Long known for revamping songs like the Pixies' "Where is My Mind?" and Arcade Fire's "Rebellion (Lies)" into their style of bluegrass-spangled songwriting, now it seems -- based upon songs heard so far, mind you -- that all that dabbling is catching up with their own creations.

The Wild Animals take on "Star?" builds from just Simonett and his quick strums, and gradually adds harmonies. The open-picked chords of the mandolin and the wailing fiddle sound more like lead guitar parts than old-time tools of the trade. A tambourine eventually keeping the beat feels like a subtle touch, but it's actually a rebellious step for these guys.

Judging by a video released showcasing time in the studio (below), "Are You Behind the Shining Star?" could be the most straightforward composition on an album that heads into weirder TBT territory still. It's showing growth for the group, and a bridge to an artistic realm with even fewer boundaries.

Featured is the album's slow-rocking title track -- which sure sounds like there's some instruments plugged into amplifiers -- featured in the clip, which seems to be doubling as a relaunch of Pachyderm as well. Midway through, Simonett sings aptly, "I am ready, how 'bout you?"

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