Does your first album suck?
Answer: Fuck yeah it does.
This blunt reply on the band’s Frenchkiss FAQ page is clear enough. Thunderbirds Are Now! are wiping the slate clean and starting over. Though I didn’t have a chance to hear their first disc, the word on the street is that it was a spaz-punk-synth-dance release that didn’t particularly distinguish itself from the glut of similar bands out there. With a freshly inked deal to Frenchkiss, and a kindred spirit in Les Savy Fav, the band retooled their sound, embraced their love of pop, and crafted Justamustache, putting a candy-coated sheen on their jagged riffs.
The first thing that strikes the listener on spinning the disc is the inconceivably high-pitched squeal of singer/guitarist Ryan Allen. The guy sounds like he’s 12 years old. Luckily, he plays with the energy of ADD-addled child as well. Teaming up with Zach Curd, who also slings a six-string, the duo provides the album with some absolutely inspired riffing. Album opener (and potential hit single material) “Better Safe than Safari” busts at the seams with shards post-Gang-Of-whatever shredding. “Enough About Me, Let’s Talk about Me” also finds Curd and Allen flexing some serious guitar muscle all over burbling keyboards and rock steady percussion. The rest of the band adequately fill out TAN!‘s sound, but don’t quite leave their mark. Drummer Mark Durgan is solid behind the kit, and holds everything together, but doesn’t surprise or even impress. Keyboardist Scott Allen burps out bursts of sound but nothing particularly catchy with bassist Martin Smith comfortably hanging out in the back.
I guess with the plethora of ideas that Allen and Curd bring to the table, it’s up to the rest of the band to simply keep up. And that’s kind of the problem. Over half an hour, Allen and Curd dish out enough riffs for two albums, but none of it sticks. Other than the kick-ass opening track, Justamustache is an indecipherable blur of keyboard bloops, high wire guitar noodling, and Allen’s prepubescent yelping. For all the guitar wizardry thrown at the listener, Thunderbirds Are Now! are seriously lacking in “Take Me Out”-sized riffs. On the plus side, the band’s energy is undeniable, but it’s difficult to digest the album in a single sitting. Sometimes a single song will have a great chorus (“From: Skulls”) or verse, only to be complemented by a completely jarring counterpart. There is no method, just madness.
There is a certain joy to be derived from the sheer energy alone of Justamustache. Like chowing down on your favorite sugar-coated cereal on Saturday morning and watching a constant stream of poorly dubbed Japanese cartoons, this thing bounces off the walls demanding your attention. But the aftermath is also the same: A sickly sweet feeling in your stomach and the need for a serious nap as you come down off the high.
In the not to distant future, I imagine Thunderbirds Are Now! will have to revamp their FAQ to the following:
Does your second album suck?
Sorta, but it was better than the first one.