(Thrill Jockey; 2008)
By Conrad Amenta | 21 July 2008
If there’s an intersection between post-punk, prog, and art punk that doesn’t require the invention of musical cartography and a king-sized bottle of Aspirin to parse, Thank You are as surely from and of it as any you’re likely to find on Thrill Jockey’s lineup. Comparisons to Battles or Tortoise are clumsy, as are those to Sonic Youth or Yo La Tengo—and the reason for it is that musicianly technique, and particularly the adherence to tight rhythms and non-linear arrangements, like anything, can be viewed on a sliding scale and both of these types of comparisons sit nowhere near each other except in the Rock rack of a Sam Goody or Wal-Mart. And yet, I can’t help but feel that they’re, in their own way, apt. I mean, there we have Thank You, self-evident and furious.
On one end of that scale you have a metronome endlessly counting beats in perfect time; on the other, a bag of cats in a clothes dryer. Creep in from both extremes and you find Battletortoise to our right, representing the aspects of Thank You that break into pastures of sprawl. With five songs clocking each other over the course of thirty-five minutes, Thank You are content to play these songs as long as they damn well please, and that they do so encourages them to discover areas of mantra repetition, texture, and depth that conventional structures don’t always allow, but also keeps these songs from being brief, nigh useless visitations of improvisational noise. Playing this mess for two minutes would be obnoxious; playing it for eight elevates it, forces the listener to go looking, to engage goddammit, rather than wait for what’s next to just come along and be next already.
On the left we have Sonic Yo La Tengouth, whose artful sloppiness has been thrown like a bowl of spaghetti against the wall and called an identity (albeit at a speed that by today’s standards might be considered an evolutionary crawl). It’s unclear if this glorious noise—this mixture that includes spasmodic woodblocks, chimes, whistles, drums, chants, guitars both electric and acoustic, screams, organs, and synths—falls into the category of an expertly-steered experimentation, or of three teenagers breaking into a Guitar Center, declaring independence from America and using the twenty minutes before the cops show up to jam out a national anthem.
At this point it should be obvious that I’m a binary thinker, and I could allude to individual moments in individual songs, compartmentalize, define these degrees further, but the point I want to make is that there’s something paradigmatic happening here that’s intentional, maybe even masterful. And at no point was it more obvious than when this monstrous album finally lay down, hydra-headed and exhausted, as iTunes passed the ball to “Happy Time” by Tim Buckley and the paradigmatic equivalent of The Odd Couple (if they’d murdered each other) occurred. In playing the spaces between, refusing to pin down structures within structures or submit to the ultimately thankless experience of being in a noise band, Thank You pull off a mean feat: taking snapshots of bedlam, but then using it as a means rather than as an end, overstepping the obligations traditional songwriting imposes without exiling oneself to insularity and inaccessibility. It’s a tricky balancing act Thank You are accomplishing here, one that takes those that might accuse the band of simply adding noise to already established formulas perfected by Battles and slaps them soundly in the face.
And there’s the crux: Terrible Two is a purposeful album, one seemingly driven to exorcise. It synthesizes creativity into something resembling noise rock that’s at times catchy, that emphasizes the rock in that term, that cannot be conveniently segmented into “song” and “departure” but can be read with ups and downs that are as natural as they are essential. For a music scene that despite all the privilege it provides innovation has a tendency to return to the safety blanket of canonical pop rock mores, it’s a vital thing.