Personal anecdote time: when I was a teenager, I became a huge Nirvana fan, naturally gobbling up as much of the band’s material as there was available to someone who didn’t engage in file-sharing. Unfortunately, the group’s recorded output isn’t massive, so what was a boy to do after he had acquired every studio release then available, yet still thirsted for that Kurt Cobain-esque grungy thrill? Simple: I started buying Bush albums. Yeah, Bush was a flagrant Nirvana copycat, but they were able to satisfy that persistent urge for the dearly-departed real thing.
Similarly, it’s both a positive and a negative point that Thrushes’ second album, Night Falls, is essentially the best album Velocity Girl never released. Like the defunct Washington, D.C.-based group of British noise pop aficionados, Thrushes construct their sound by plumbing through the best bits of late ‘80s/early ‘90s guitar pedal-obsessed alternative rock subgenres (namely shoegaze) and marrying those treasures to clean, candy-coated pop hooks. It’s what Velocity Girl did 15 years ago, except slightly more rocking and with liberal use of delay pedals thrown in for good measure. In fact, Thrushes singer Anna Conner’s voice is such a dead ringer for the keening, chaste yearning of Velocity Girl’s Sarah Shannon that you might experience a double-take when you don’t find the latter’s name listed among the album liner notes.
Night Falls may not be terribly distinctive, but good lord, is it indelible. I’ll freely admit that due to my avowed weakness for that potent equation of great pop hooks added to noisy guitar sounds (I am a Nirvana fan, after all), I probably love this album more than I reasonably should. However, all doubts disappear whenever I listen to the first two tracks, “Trees” and “Crystals”, two stirringly vital pop gems that I find myself playing ad nauseum.
What makes Night Falls work so well is that Thrushes is both perfectly honed in its songcraft and as an ensemble. Instead of slap-dash experiments with guitar effects wedded to verse-chorus structures that lesser “nu-gaze” contemporaries trade in, these are actual songs, brimming with vitality and passion. The sparkling melodies are upfront and clear, drenched in enough trebly reverb to make Echo and the Bunnymen weep with joy. The downside is that as Conner’s vocals are given prominent display, the lyrics often prove insubstantial. Reliant on simplistic rhyme schemes, the words are inoffensive enough if the music is riveting (as it often is), but they can be particularly grating on a lesser light like “Juggernaut”, where Conner’s repetitious lyrics (the lines “You’re not what I thought / You’re a juggernaut” are reiterated for what seems like an eternity) drag the whole track down.
“Nu-gaze” has been in vogue in the indie scene for a few years now, and to be fair, it’s been hard for any band to stand out in a genre where the whole point is to indulge in one’s love of guitar pedals and the Creation Records discography. I do hope that Thrushes will try to further distinguish themselves in future recordings, but I can’t fault them too harshly for doing what they do so well. Honestly, it’s been a bit too long since I’ve heard a new alt-rock release that’s been as engaging for me as Night Falls is, and you can bet I can’t wait to hear more. At the very least, hopefully it’ll inspire folks to pick up Velocity Girl’s Copacetic or Simpatico after they’ve procured everything in Thrushes’ tiny catalogue.
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// Notes from the Road
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