[26 January 2011]
When Baltimore became home to the alternative music scene to talk about, the eclectic collective of musical talent posed a bit of a problem to journalists. Namely, how to describe the scene and sound. All the underground and independent musical movements in America’s recent past had a mess of bands that shared sonic sensibilities. There was Seattle’s grunge scene, Chicago’s industrial sound—every sub-genre of hip-hop from juke to bounce had a distinct hometown flavor. Even closer to Baltimore, a quick drive south on I-95 brings one to D.C.: despite the sea changes and evolutions in D.C.‘s punk scene, folks could still pinpoint a “D.C. sound”, no matter the year or decade.
And then Baltimore had to go and mess all that up. Dan Deacon, the Baltimore scene’s iconic ringleader, creates jarring, complex electronic music that sounds nothing like the minimalist, guttural tones of post-punkers Double Dagger. The sensual ambiance of Beach House’s folky tunes doesn’t really mesh well with hip-hop noiseniks Food For Animals. Ditto for the cutesy, stark anti-folk of Santa Dads and the spastic, schizophrenic tunes by the Death Set. Wzt Hearts and Future Islands? Kind of different. Same with Teeth Mountain and Ponytail. Same with Ecstatic Sunshine and Lexie Mountain Boys.
The diverse array of sounds has defined Baltimore as the kind of open-to-all-possibilities sanctuary that the musical community there no doubt cherishes. 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.
The trio’s third full-length sees the band expanding their sound beyond the high-octane post-punk affair that caused folks to compare Thank You to the equally cathartic art-punk act Ponytail. Yes, their frenetic, guitar-happy sound is alive and well. That sound just happens to be treated like clay on Golden Worry: it’s mashed and smashed, molded and folded with a new set of tools, thrown into the kiln for a good bit of warmth, and then covered in an array of exquisite colors.
The band’s brought in a mess of tools for shaping the album, which the album’s press release is happy to advertise: the guys use a harmonica, Fender Twin Reverb amps, a jaw harp, a mini-Moog, ‘60s Vox organs, and a sampler. Shiny new tools don’t always improve a sound, but fortunately Thank You’s Jeffrey McGrath, Michael Bouyoucas and Emmanuel Nicolaidis know their way around a good song.
The result is an unfortunately all-too short album that deftly and smartly balances frenzied punk, aural ambience and a little bit of pop friendliness. Tunes like “Birth Reunion” show that the band can handle light, airy sounds with grace, only to transform it with a wave of kinetic, jagged post-punk for a thrilling listen. On Golden Worry, Thank You borrowed sonic ideas from other beloved Baltimore acts, ran with it, and produced an album that’s a great representation of the band and its city.
Sure, it may not sound like a strict amalgamation of all of Baltimore’s finest. But, who would want that? Such an overt concept would be nothing but messy and dysfunctional. Fortunately, the six songs on Golden Worry are only messy when they need to be.