Mary Timony- Untame the Tiger

by | Mar 3, 2024 | Reviews

Mary Timony Untame the Tiger


Mary Timony has been through a whole lot since her last solo record, 2007’s The Shapes We Make. She’s flexed her power-pop muscles with the beloved Ex Hex, and has been a force behind two supergroups, first Wild Flag and more recently, Hammered Hulls. She’s also experienced the travails of love and loss along the way. Now she has channeled the sonic changes and emotional challenges of life into her latest solo record, Untame the Tiger.


In the years leading up to recording the album, Timony dealt with the end of a long-term relationship and the death of her father, which both provide much of the inspiration for Untame the Tiger. Despite the title, the record is mostly subdued, subtle, and contemplative, with muted and compact production that never gets too high or low sonically. (Timony produced the album with long-time collaborator and essential podcaster, the drummer/composer Joe Wong, and Dennis Kane).

Timony’s guitar playing will always be a focal point, but perhaps just as compelling are the song’s vocals and melodies. She can be a soulful vocalist in a non-traditional sense. Her straightforward, unadorned vocal delivery convey the weight of lyrics, describing her sense of loneliness, sorrow, frustration. There is a confessional feeling to her vocals, like she’s talking even when singing. The dynamic and floating harmonies from guest vocalist Betsy Wright, her Ex Hex bandmate (who will join Timony on tour in March), are essential, adding a sad beauty to Timony’s more direct melodies.


Ex Hex performing

Mary Timony in 2019 (photo by Kate Hoos)

In keeping with the overall subtlety of the record, Timony’s legendary guitar playing ability is evident, but in a different way than Ex Hex’s hard rock or the more European classical style of Helium or her early solo career. Her mastery of various guitar styles—acoustic, slide, fuzzy riffing, catchy melodic lead lines—all help serve the songs.  


“No Thirds,” the album opener, is an evocative, driving tune (both in rhythm and subject matter). One can imagine her driving through the non-stop through the desert as the sun sets, til the dawn reveals new possibities alongside residual pain, as she sings “Brand new day/it still hurts like hell”. Wright’s haunting harmonies add emotional complexity to Timony’s melancholy vocals. Timony’s acoustic strumming provides the rhythmic pulse along with drummer Dave Christensen’s infinite groove. Bassist Brian Bettancourt keeps it simple along with the acoustic guitar, then works his way in and around Timony’s various lead passages. Her multiple lead overdubs counter and complement each other as the song closes.


“Dominoes” is pure indie pop, served up light and simple. “Kept saying I just wanted a friend/but my only emotion is to suffer til the end,” she sings atop a simple acoustic chord pattern. Timony and the band ease into a Rolling Stones-style groove to drive the song home, with her adding simple, yet tasty slide leads.



The desert vibes return on “Looking for the Sun.” Here, Timony shows off her ability to create atmosphere with some psych-folk. Once again, her acoustic guitar playing is the focal point, with a catchy, repeated motif throughout that counters her vocals. Timony’s electric guitar makes a beautiful appearance as the song closes, with subtle fuzz tones and a simple lead pattern that create an epic closing-credits ambience.


On the back half of the record, we reach the emotional crescendo as nightfall descends on the sonic desertscape she has created, particularly on “The Guest” and “The Dream.”

“The Guest” starts as hazy, melancholic country, Timony plaintively singing, “Hello, loneliness, you’ve come back home/You were the only one who never left me alone.” Her slightly deadpan delivery can’t mask the sadness behind the lyrics. Wright joins in for airy harmonies to really tug at the heartstrings. Once again, her deft closing guitar leads serve to drive the song’s emotions home rather than launch the song into another dimension. 


Ex Hex performing

Mary Timony in 2019 (photo by Kate Hoos)


“The Dream” slows things down, with an insistent, eerie arpeggiated guitar line. She begins: “I had a dream that nothing was really real.” The chorus relieves some tension with big chord strums and swelling strings—but not really, when she sings, “Can you hear the violence of spring, hear it ring from everything?” What a line. We think of spring as new beginnings, new life—but that is inherently violent, isn’t it, to be born or to reemerge from dormancy or turmoil. Her struggle between sweet oblivion and painful rebirth is laid bare, haunting the song’s conclusion, “I don’t wanna run to the dream.”


Untame the Tiger reveals emotional layers with each listen. At first blush, it’s pleasant and mellow listen; as you hear more of Timony’s life sung through the lyrics, the cozy production belies the raw emotion of her words. The psychedelic folkiness of the music helps soften the blow of the sadness and uncertainty she is expressing in each song. She has a long, storied history of laying her feelings out in her songs, but this record feels like a more pointed exercise than spilling ones guts. The pain of the death of relationships and towering life figures, like a parent, is universal. These feelings are universal and the record feels less like a private confession than a reaching out for mutual understanding.


Untame the Tiger is out now via Merge and available on Bandcamp and all major streamers.


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