Tiger Talk, the sophomore LP from BC-based Americana-philes Yukon Blonde, begins halfway down the highway. One second into “My Girl,” the overlapping bounce of drum kicks and staccato chords go skidding by at 80 miles per hour. At 11 seconds, crystal-clear arpeggios pan up to a spotless blue ribbon of sky, and by the half-minute mark Jeff Innes, the mad captain of this sudden-onset joyride, confirms in a slight, giddy drawl what we already suspected: “You have these urges to just drive when you’re drunk/I have these urges to just ride along.”
We didn’t need Innes to tell us that we’re in motion—or that we’re in the passenger’s seat of a Canadian caravan barreling beard-first down American interstates. But Tiger Talk isn’t so much about subtlety as it is about instantly gratifying, hoot and holler-along road rock, braking after 10 chorus-driven tracks somewhere between the idealized orchards of Helplessness Blues and the lidless deserts of Hotel California. The retro influence on Tiger Talk is obvious: Slightly fuzzed electric guitar hooks trickle up and down major scales, all-male harmonies give wing to choruses about makin’ that dough and gettin’ that girl, and a melismatic swarm of ooohs and whoooa-ooas lingers around the corner of every gentle curve. It’s even got a single called “Stairway,” though to be fair this version is barely three minutes long and forgoes explosively layered guitar riffs for exuberantly layered vocals.
Unlike Yukon Blonde’s self-titled debut, which was recorded direct-to-tape without obsessive track-by-track mastering, the production here is a force all its own, shaping Tiger Talk‘s predominantly simple strum-and-drum ditties into exhausting reps in a mid-highway workout routine. You may have to fight not to twist your core to the infectious bob and sway of “My Girl” and “Radio,” then catch your breath and drum out the offbeat of “For LA” until your palms throb red against the dashboard, the steering wheel and the rattling car ceiling.
Genre-dodging entries like the hipster salsa “Iron Fist” and swing soliloquy “Oregon Shores” keep Tiger Talk fresh through most of its 40-minute run time, though there are a few moments when Yukon Blonde sticks too close to its blueprints for comfort. “Six Dead Tigers,” for example, is similar enough to “Stairway” in structure and melody it’s easy to forget they’re separate songs. Later in the album there’s a clever moment on the glam power ballad “Guns” when Innes follows the cliche lyrics “You can wish on a star” with “And crash the fuck out of cars,” but this throwaway laugh isn’t enough to keep the twinkling ballad from sounding stilted and out of place among the rest of Tiger Talk‘s pure propulsion.
Album closer “Sweet Dee” is reward in itself for listening through the few roadside distractions. Every thread of the tapestry is mastered in lush complement to every other, empowering the thunderous echo of low electric chords and prairie-filling harmonies more than any preceding track. Neatly countering the initial pedal-to-the-metal energy of “My Girl,” “Sweet Dee” is a slow-burning sunset cruise that makes Tiger Talk‘s destination entirely worth the somewhat familiar journey.