Records do not have to sound like the circumstances of their creation. Mary Timony’s ‘Untame The Tiger’ was recorded during a two-year period bookended by the death of her parents and which saw the dissolution of a long-term relationship. It was written on head-clearing bike rides and long walks while she was the primary carer for her ailing parents. Although this is undoubtedly a grim situation, the responsibility of making impossible decisions on behalf of her family meant that creative choices no longer felt a source of anxiety.

‘Unleash The Tiger’ comes as a surprise to those familiar with her earlier career. Emerging with Dischord post-punk band, Autoclave, who had an angularity and wonky melodicism that set them apart from the hardcore scene, she went on to create the blazing alternative pop of Helium, co-founded Wild Flag with Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, and most recently lead power trio Ex Hex. Instead, her fifth solo album, and first in fifteen years, has the feel of 1970s adult-oriented folk rock, personified by the appearance on drums for five tracks of Fairport Convention’s Dave Maddocks whose other credits include Richard and Linda Thompson’s ‘Pour Down Like Silver’ and Nick Drake’s ‘Bryter Layter’. The album’s production manages to combine the intimacy of folk rock with great expansiveness.

Opening track, the six-minute plus ‘No Thirds’, sets the sensational standard, matching Timony’s twangy guitar with Maddocks’ deft hi-hat work. Combined with her edgy vocals, harmonies alongside her Ex Hex bandmate Betsy Wright and Melissa Quinley and superb orchestration, it has an air of wide-open spaces to mirror the feel of losing people (“A brand-new day, it still hurts like hell…Don’t want to wander alone.”) In contrast, ‘Summer’ has more in common with her Helium work, a garage rock stomp inspired by the energy of early Kinks before ending with twin guitar solos influenced by the first Gerry Rafferty solo album.

‘Dominoes’ starts with an amusing description of dating the wrong person (“When I met you, you were talking /like a mad man who just got high / But I thought I could see right through it / to the space behind your eyes”) and is pulled together by the lightness of its guitar work. In its tale of trying to emerge from the darkness of life, ‘Looking for the Sun’ is extraordinary starting with delta blues guitar and juxtaposing it with neo psychedelic freak folk harmonies.

‘The Guest’ portrays loneliness as a houseguest, the only persistent friend. With its stripped-back acoustic instrumentation, it brings elements of ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ era Byrds to Timony’s own melodicism. With its ascending chorus and bass groove, ‘Don’t Disappear’ is reminiscent of the best of commercial US new wave. ‘The Dream’ conjures that mood where all the words come out strange, while the song is personified by great subtle guitar picking and melodic orchestration.

The title track suggests Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac in its opening guitar run and spacious percussion before the song swerves into pop territory, albeit with an underlying sadness in its wry portrait of a wasted relationship (“What do I get from loving you? Just this song about the pain”). The album concludes with the bucolic ‘Not the Only One’, Timony sounding forlorn and resigned but able to dig out some intricate guitar work.

‘Untame The Tiger’ is a wonderfully mature album. While the lyrics hint at the inner turmoil, the music is rich in detail that puts elements of classic pop rock at the service of a remarkable fresh sounding collection of songs.

Mary Timony: Untame The Tiger – Out 23rd February 2024 (Merge Records)

Timony – The Guest (Official Music Video) (

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.