music

Thrice – To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere

It’s been a while since Thrice last released a studio album, almost five years in fact. So today is a day I’ve been in anticipation of for quite some time. They’ve always been my favourite band for their drive in pushing forward and trying new sounds and approaches to songwriting and To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere is no exception.

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I was tempted to write this as a track-by-track but we’d be here for days so I’ll just go over the main highlights.

The most noticeable singular element of almost all of Thrice’s more recent work has to be the guitar tones, and TBEITBN follows suit. The cleans sound so crisp, bluesy and piercing without drawing your attention from the rest of the song, and the heavier tones feel like a warm musical hug, but not in a way that drowns out the more subtle elements. If you listen to The Window and Black Honey you’ll understand. And the vocals. Oh, the vocals. I’ve been in love with Dustin Kensrue’s voice for around 14 years but it seemed to reach a new level on Beggars and Major/Minor. It’s all gravelly and lovely. Blood On The Sand and Death From Above are my favourites for showcasing exactly what I mean.

They’re lyrically just as strong as ever too, I’ve been sat here for ages trying to pick some of my favourite examples but I can’t. They’re all just so so good. There’s such a wide variety as well, with some political songs such as Death From Above (which seems to be written from the perspective of a drone pilot) being a clear contrast to Stay With Me, the track directly before Death From Above and is more like a love song. Songs like Stay With Me show how incredible Thrice consistently are at constructing songs, there isn’t a single dull or out of place chorus on the whole album but the thought that goes into the writing is so evident in Stay With Me. They know when to keep it simple and when to play with time signatures of structures, and do so in other songs, but Stay With Me is fairly straightforward but not lacking in brilliance.

From watching the studio updates on YouTube, they said they were bringing in new music but trying to shine light on various eras of the band’s duration and it’s been so carefully done to make it seem either accidental or casual. In places it feels like an amalgamation of the best bits of the albums following The Artist In The Ambulance that you’d only really notice if you had them pointed out to you or if you’re a Thrice nerd like me.

The chorus for Death From Above brings about memories of Silhouette though I can’t place way (probably the time signature and general heaviness), and Whistleblower would fit perfectly on Vheissu, but by far the easiest one to point out is Salt And Shadow. It’s such a perfect album closer, reminiscent of some of the tracks from the Air chapter of The Alchemy Index. It almost feels like a lullaby, with the multi-layered vocals lending themselves to probably the best ‘light’ song Thrice have ever written. I also love the way Salt And Shadow ends, it’s a very subtle hark back to the “You’ve got to play it again” from The Beltsville Crucible from The Illusion Of Safety but it’s so expertly done that it’s easy to miss.

I had high expectations for To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere, as I do with every album by every band I love, and I’m so pleased to say they’ve all been exceeded. I know a lot of other amazing albums have been released this year but TBEITBN has shot to the top, with most of the songs mentioned here being among the best songs I’ve heard for a long time.

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Eurovision. Eurowow.

Hoorah, hooray, it’s Eurovision Day!

It’s hard to write this without giving away too many of the tweets I have saved in my drafts on Twitter. There are a few things to cover though.

Firstly, a handful of people have asked me what Eurovision is. In short, it’s an international music contest featuring basically every country in Europe (and Australia, though nobody really knows why). Whoever wins hosts it the next year, this year it’s in Sweden, and it’s broken down into two semi finals and a grand final.

Each semi final consists of 18 acts, of which 10 go through. These are then added to the previous winner’s entry and the “Big Five” to make a final of 26 acts. The Big Five are the five countries who make the largest financial contribution to the competition, and in doing so get a free pass to the final. The Big Five are France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the UK. It’s probably a good thing the UK get a free pass every year because if we didn’t there’s no way our past few entries would have made it to the final, especially not this year. Honestly. It’s dog shit.

But yeah, some people didn’t watch the semi finals because they’re super duper shit and would rather watch just 26 of the 42 entries so here’s a brief run down of what they missed from not watching it. You missed Bosnian rapping, Greek rapping, a gravelly man representing San Marino, an Estonian card trick, some droney rock shite from Montenegro, Nicky Byrne from Westlife, a man from Belarus who was naked and howling in a wolf’s face and a few handsome men from Denmark. Sucks to be you. If you’re able to watch them on iPlayer I’d recommend it, but skip through the sketches in between. Again, utter dog shit. Especially the BBC’s attempt at a comedic version of a Scandinavian drama. I’d rather watch my grandparents fuck than go through that again.

As for the ones to look out for in the final, Belgium are the openers of the competition. This is a shame as it suggests they may not do well with the voting, but it’s a very typical 90s Eurovision song complete with a glittery jacket and some snazzy dancing. I’ve got the Netherlands, Israel and Bulgaria in my top five even though they’re also relatively early in the running list too. All strong songs with a bit of something extra to help you remember them. I’m not giving anyway away though, you’ll have to watch to see what I mean.

A couple of other songs I’ve been singing to myself lately are Croatia’s entry and Latvia’s entry. Both pretty big outsiders as far as the bookies are concerned but they’re just about memorable enough to get a decent spot in my opinion.

The others kind of tend to merge into a big mess with only a few others standing out, some for the wrong reasons. Poland’s entry has some of the worst lyrics of the competition and the singer looks like Weird Al Yankovic, and the less said about Georgia’s entry the better. I just hope the people in the venue are protected with some form of eye protection. It’s a light show that can be seen from space.

Anyway this has been brief as fuck but I’m excited and I’m not gonna spunk my best material away here so you’ll have to wait until 8pm tonight when I start live tweeting the whole fucking thing.

Blink 182 – Bored To Death

I know there are no doubt thousands of people writing in reaction to the new Blink 182 song but I’ve been waiting for this for a long time so I’m adding one more to the mix.

I’m not going to dissect the whole song and discuss each tiny element, and I’m also going to try to avoid direct comparisons between Tom DeLonge and Matt Skiba because, in all honesty, that kind of thing feels a bit lazy. However it has to be noted there are obvious differences that serve to highlight the influence each has had on the songwriting process. This is also Blink’s first time working with John Feldmann, so it’s hard to say which elements are present because of his and Skiba’s involvement, or simply down to Tom not being there.

The first thing I noticed was the lack of “spacey” guitar effects, not that I hated them on some of the more recent Blink releases but I find this song to be far more direct in terms of tone, and it’s also worth mentioning how quickly the vocals come in. The whole thing feels very condensed; almost all of Bored To Death has vocals in some form going on. The whoa-oh bits drag on a bit but I understand it. It gives Travis a time to do what he does best and drum the heck out of everything. There’s also a fair bit of whoa-ing on recent Alkaline Trio albums, so that could be Skiba’s influence shining through.

While we’re on the topic of Skiba, I’ve been a huge fan of Alkaline Trio (and their associated projects) for years, I think I bought From Here To Infirmary around 15 years ago. As soon as I found out he was going to be working with Mark and Travis on this album I was so excited, more excited than I probably was for Neighbourhoods and Dogs Eating Dogs. His introduction seems to have given Blink a new energy. Not necessarily better or worse, as people are so often drawn to say, just different. I’m also excited to see the impact it could have on bands who are either friends with Alkaline Trio, or involve Dan or Derek (The Lawrence Arms, The Falcon and Hot Water Music to name just three).

I’m kind of rambling and just throwing random thoughts into this so I’ll round it up before I get too heavily into it, as that’s something I’m trying to avoid. It’s 10 years since Mark and Travis released When Your Heart Stops Beating with +44 and Bored To Death sounds like a kind of natural progression from that. It has a certain urgency about it, Mark’s vocals are as good as they’ve been for years, Skiba’s vocals are probably as good as I’ve ever heard them and for the first time since Take Off Your Pants And Jacket it genuinely sounds like everyone involved is enjoying what they’re doing.

Anyway, I’m finishing this here. There’ll be a drawing based off the lyrics for Bored To Death coming soon but I wanted to upload this in the meantime.

Heavy Music

We’ve all described a band as “heavy as fuck” because they play really fast and loud, the vocals are indiscernible and the drums are mainly blast beats and double bass pedals. Heavy heavy heavy. Fast fast fast. Shouty shouty shouty.

Based on these criteria it’s really no surprise that people tend to exclude the likes of Radiohead and Björk in their lists of heavy artists. However, if we reconsider what it takes to make music “heavy” then they definitely can be at times.

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When I saw Refused (I’ll try not to mention this much but I’m still buzzing from it) they were supported by Anna von Hausswolff. I wasn’t sure what we were expecting, having never listened to her before, but her performance was certainly an experience. In hindsight I did really enjoy it but at the time it was all a bit of a shock to the senses. I’ll try to describe her style of music as best I can. Say, for example, you’re watching a horror film. It’s set in a forest. It’s just starting to get dark and the main characters are about to encounter a whole world of awfulness. A song begins to play to add further tension. You think to yourself “Oh shit, someone’s about to die in this film.” One main character watches another die and survives to carry the burden of what they’ve seen with them for the rest of their life. Even this doesn’t do Anna von Hausswolff’s music justice but I’m sure you’re at least part of the way with me in understanding. My brother described it as “Disney doom.” It carries hope and loss at the same time, the sort of music that could be played to lament a loved one.

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It was heavy as fuck. Drone-y, in a good way, and at times the tone of the organs and keyboards filled me with a dreadful weight. That weight in itself is what I sometimes refer to when I say a band or musician is heavy, which is what I mean when I say Radiohead and Björk have their heavy moments. Their songs have a tendency to create tension and inspire an internal sense of longing and dread, and that’s far heavier than any blast beat can be. I’d class Videotape by Radiohead and Sæglópur by Sigur Rós as two of the heaviest songs I’ve ever heard (I’m sure I’ll think of others later on but for now these two demonstrate what I mean pretty much perfectly).

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Despite this kind of music requiring a more focused form of listening (I find I can’t just have it as background music, it demands my full attention) I’m always looking out for more of this style. I guess you can also count Explosions In The Sky, This Will Destroy You and some pieces by Sigur Rós in this bracket. So please recommend songs or artists/bands to me. I’d love to have my mind blown and my head fucked a little more.

Seeing Refused

This is over a month late but whatever.

The Shape Of Punk To Come is my favourite album of all time. I don’t say that lightly, I’m pretty much the biggest music snob I know (something I’m not proud of but can’t seem to break from). I first heard it when I was about 14 or 15 – around 2002, fuck you, I’m old – and immediately fell in love with everything Refused were about. It broke my heart when I found out they broke up several years prior to me discovering them. I’d never get to see them live. Sad faces everywhere.

Then! In 2011! There were rumours of a reunion! Followed by an announcement that they’d be performing at Sonisphere 2012! I already had tickets for Sonisphere and the news had my dick so hard my knees almost burst. Happy faces everywhere. Then, because at this stage fate was deciding to just fuck with me in the most awful of ways, Sonisphere was cancelled and Refused were added to the Download line up instead. The people with whom I was meant to be going to Sonisphere couldn’t make Download, so my wait to see Refused live continued. Sad faces again.

They did a couple of other festivals after that, which I couldn’t afford to attend, but last year they finally released a follow up to TSOPTC. As soon as I knew there was an album coming I hoped for a tour. Freedom was released last June and a tour was announced. We got tickets. Happy faces. I was half expecting it to be cancelled and more sad faces but nope. I finally saw them last weekend, after around 14 years of waiting. My brother didn’t even have to wait that long to see Guns N Roses (albeit not the ‘real’ Guns N Roses if you want to be a dickhead about it).

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The setlist was perfect, older tracks being combined sublimely with the songs from Freedom. They even found space for Coup d’État, Rather Be Dead and Life Support Addiction from Songs To Fan The Flames Of Discontent. As they closed with New Noise into Tannhäuser/Derivè, the atmosphere in the room was electric. From front to back, the whole room as getting into it either by singing along or by taking part in the pit with the oldest average age I’ve seen for a while.

Seeing a band live can sometimes ruin the magic or something like that, but The Shape Of Punk To Come is still my favourite album and Refused are still my favourite band. Happy happy faces.