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Thank You

Terrible Two

(Thrill Jockey; US: 22 Apr 2008; UK: 19 May 2008)

You’re welcome

Thank You, a noise-spazzing trio out of Baltimore, rides an adrenaline-coursing wave. Rhythm dominates from the first tom-pounding bars of opener “Empty Legs” to the last tones of the organ-pulsing, cymbal slashing “Terrible Two”. This is not music for the faint of heart or short of breath. It hauls you through a panting, heaving landscape of physical exertion. You’ll be tired afterwards, possibly sweaty.


Consider, for instance, the gym-whistling, drum punishing first salvo, “Empty Legs”. Tightly repetitive, manically pushed, it spatters short 4/4 patterns of drum and keyboard in ratatat machine gun bursts. Soccer-stadium blurts of “ha ha… ha ha” turn even human voices into rhythm instruments. Everything is staccato, clipped and aggressive, except for a dreamy haze of wordless vocals over top. The mix intoxicates and confounds, pummels and illuminates. It’s a close cousin to the percussive epiphanies of the recent live Boredoms album or the sheer rhythmic abandon of OOIOO’s Taiga.


Hold onto that OOIOO thought, because at the heart of this band’s sound is the drumming of Elke Wardlaw, though she has since quit and been replaced by Emmanuel Nicolaidis. Her skill, similar to that of OOIOO’s Yoshimi P-We, lies in creating organic, fertile chaos within tightly constrained bounds. There’s nothing especially difficult about the time-signatures. Everything is in fast, syncopated 4/4. Yet within these strictures, Wardlaw uses the whole kit, getting complex tonal patterns out of the toms, so the drums sometimes sound like a keyboard.


That’s interesting, because the keyboards, played in short, off-kilter patterns that employ only a few notes, frequently sound like a form of percussion. So do the vocals, the guitars and everything else this band can deploy. Wardlaw, Jeffrey McGrath and Michael Bouyoucas churn up rich textures of conflicting rhythms, banged and strummed and shouted in counterpoint. Melody flowers almost accidentally, in the juxtaposition of differently toned accents. 


The album, engineered by J. Robbins and mixed by Chris Coady, delivers these fractious tunes with the right mix of clarity and immediacy. The cuts sound fresh and live, as if they could go in any direction from here, and yet you can distinguish dozens of different sounds without straining. Consider, for instance, the stew of crunching, chugging, clamped down guitar and skittery-mad sticks that kicks off “Embryo Imbroglio”. The tune churns to life with shout-sung words and a churn of distorted guitars. It is a head-on collision in musical terms, with a guitar riff that repeatedly slams into a wall, snare shot on impact. You feel the shock, the sudden recoil, like a neck snapped back, and then it comes again. It seems chaotic, yet the pieces of this tune lock into one another. Their metronomic rhythms flare into chaos, but with a precision that must be planned carefully. 


The disc closes with its relatively serene title track, a nine-minute interlude of church-like organ tones and scattershot commentary from the drums. About a third of the way through, the cut takes on a sloping, caravan-like shuffle, the keyboards trudging low, the drums gamboling carelessly over top. Yet even this cut will leave you breathless, trying to keep up with the relentless variety of sound and rhythm. 


This is a drummer’s album, where rhythms proliferate in crazy abundance, but melodies and song structures are thin on the ground.  Fans of spazzed-out, improvisatory experimenters like OOIOO, the Boredoms and Oneida will find much to enjoy here… though they may need a towel and a cold drink afterwards.

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26 Jan 2011
Though there has yet to be a single musician or band that can act as a succinct exemplar of Baltimore's sound, Thank You's latest album, Golden Worry, may come closest to summarizing the vibe, spirit, and sonic sensations that have made Baltimore's underground community what it is today.
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