During live appearances, Oh! Tiger Mountain, the alias of the captivating French songwriter Mathieu Poulain, will often don and perform behind a tiger mask. Poulain’s decision to hide himself comes off as particularly bizarre in light of his new EP, New Religion, out next week on Microphone Recordings. The five-song EP finds Poulain singing in a more powerful and assured voice than on his 2011 LP Sings Suzie, bringing to mind such stately crooners as Leonard Cohen, the National’s Matt Berninger and the Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser. Furthermore, tracks like “New Religion” and “He’s Not Alone Anymore” demonstrate Poulain’s heightened sense of structure; the off-kilter carnivaleque vibe that pops up on Sings Suzie has been tightened down a bit in favor of a subtler, more controlled sound.
Which isn’t to say that New Religion isn’t full of playfulness. Surf-rock guitar noodling sneaks in alongside Buddy Holly-era backup singing, and the mix makes everything sound bright and airy. Part of what makes Oh! Tiger Mountain so memorable is the juxtaposition of Poulain’s deep, gravelly voice, intoning cryptic lines like “I must have fallen asleep someplace / between a bride and a commercial break” with whimsical jangly guitar lines and syrupy synths. Poulain never enters into gimmick territory, however; his songs are downright intriguing in their odd mix of styles.
Earlier this year French superstars Phoenix took another surf-rock enthusiast, Mac DeMarco, on the road with them. Maybe next time they’ll shoot for someone from their own neck of the woods. Because if they do, Oh! Tiger Mountain will be sure to turn some heads.