Thank You: “1-2-3 Bad”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/01-1-2-3-Bad.mp3|titles=Thank You: “1-2-3 Bad”]
Thank You‘s third album, Golden Worry, proves that the Baltimore trio is a band worth rooting for, and one that’s a step closer to making clear what it wants.
Like a few other recent albums to come out of Baltimore — namely, Pontytail‘s Ice Cream Spiritual and Dan Deacon‘s Bromst — Golden Worry stages a good-faith meeting between experimental impulses and an enthusiasm for amiable hooks. This hasn’t always been the case with Thank You. On the band’s last album, Terrible Two, its obsession with rhythm threatened to dry up the guitars, keys, and vocals into a tuneless murk.
Thank You has a compact feel that sometimes works for it and sometimes against it. The drums clamber actively on top of the song, often taking the lead but not always filling up the low end, and the guitars work up a noise-rhythm complement that, while often aggressive, doesn’t pursue a lot of fun back-and-forth with the percussion. As for vocals, only sometimes there and only sometimes coherent, they’re another constant variable in an open-ended format. It might help to know that Thrill Jockey’s bio for Thank You credits each member simply with “everything.”
Unlike those Ponytail and Dan Deacon records, Golden Worry runs the risk of sounding a bit stringy. To continue an admittedly arbitrary comparison, Ponytail’s Ice Cream Spiritual draws out its moments of climax for as long as possible, pounding and whipping those moments into ever-higher states of beaming tension. Thank You seems more interested in what goes on under, behind, before, and around the climax.
“1-2-3 Bad” starts the album off at a gallop, yet soon the dual guitars are picking apart the beat and melody, continually driving the song to calmer places instead of crazier ones. New drummer Emmanuel Nicolaidis‘ playing on “1-2-3 Bad” has all the assertive hyperactivity of previous Thank You drum workouts, but it does a much better job of actively playing to the melody that the guitars are setting down. In their turn, the guitars keep giving him something solid with which to play.
In fact, even during the most scraggly bouts of fast picking on “Birth Reunion,” the guitar parts keep it together, grounding the whole album in both accessibility and discipline. The chords on “Pathetic Magic” are a little more dissonant, and they still hammer into the drums with a punchy sense of purpose. Half of the time, it’s exactly what a noisy post-punk song should be, and for the rest it’s building on mid-tempo, refreshingly open-sounding tumbles through syncopation. The flow between the song’s intro and its middle is a credit to the control and collaborative instincts that Thank You brings to its beat-tweaking ambitions.
The record is at its best, though, when challenging its own palette of sounds. The lead synth melody of “Strange All” squelches and wobbles on and off the beat, putting just the right amount of drag on the song and making its overall progression more rewarding. Halfway in, the track slows down and reconfigures, giving the drummer more room to display some wit — playing twitchy patterns against a calmer mood, or flinging his fills against a second, chromatically crawly synth hook. At times, “Strange All” recalls Parts & Labor‘s brilliance at channeling hooks through half-decayed sonics.
It’s not that Thank You is always going right for excitement — again, the album explores plenty of other moods — but one thing that dulls the excitement of its progress on Golden Worry is the vocals. Just like everything else here, the singing has a new-found focus, adding extra layers of both rhythm and harmony, especially the crisscrossing and overlapping vocal parts on “1-2-3 Bad.” The problem is the actual sound of the voices, which seem hesitant to take on much tonal character. They’re also hesitant to annoy or to hog the attention, thankfully, so it’s not as if this points to some deep flaw in the band.
Golden Worry is yet another well-rounded bout of sweaty art rock that, if anything, should take more chances with its vocals. This is hardly a damning factor in this genre, just something that really could use some work. The vocals on Clipd Beaks’ 2010 album To Realize can come off as thin and groggy, but they don’t pull down the album as a whole. It’d be nice to hear the vocals match the ambition and character of all the other elements in the mix.
Of course, the usual expectations of character and beefy dynamics can lead you astray on Golden Worry. Thank You not only takes a clearer approach to songwriting here, but makes it hold up across all six tracks. Some of us more traditional-minded rock listeners will have to adjust our internal EQs for a bit for this record — and really not that much. More often than not, we’ll be glad we did.