[13 February 2014]
Barely audible from the surging bed of instruments arrive the first lyrics on Thumpers debut full-length, Galore: “Stay young.” Cast in the grammatical imperative, this edict sums much of the contents of the record. The lyrics, contained in the appropriately titled song “Marvel” reflect the joy, the lush beauty, and, frankly, the insouciance of Thumpers optimism trails through the global pop universe. Sounding at times like Local Natives, at others like the best Dirty Projectors songs that never were, the band marshals songs of size, scope and heart-pumping sanguinity. For a moment, the darkness holds at bay and the band colors their world with tropical guitars and chanting vocals, a type of brief bulwark against cold, linear modernity. We will die, we know, but in the 11 songs of Galore, youth is a forever and possible orthogonal.
Rock music in general, but especially the recent boutique bourgeois trends of Late Indie Rock, does this sort of juvenile aesthetic well. We are held in a Levi’s commercial while the Naked and Famous, or maybe Walt Whitman, or maybe both, tell us about our great rugged youth, an age that recedes before us even as we try recapture it. This can be, bluntly, for the self-aware, depressing. For anyone paying attention, bands like Foster the People represent some of the most cynical and useless contributions to the commercialization of youth culture in those 20 and 30-somethings who grapple badly with their diminishing relevance and overwhelming nostalgia. So what, then, is the difference with a band like Thumpers, and an LP like Galore, which traffics in these very tropes? Perhaps, it is the overwhelming size of the arrangements, or the yelping, angular danger of a track like “Tame”, a place where the band winks at death with the lyric, “If we should die before we wake/ Don’t leave our bodies that way.” And perhaps it is simply the band’s unstemmed belief in the project, a don’t-look-down boldness that separates the brave from the silly. Even the album’s cover art, three pairs of feet in the midst of tumbling down a sand dune steers just clear of the cynical.
At its best, Galore opens the lens as wide as it will go, letting artist and listener pass through a multi-colored palette of instrumentation and elevating aesthetic sensibilities. The four track run of “Dancing’s Done”, “Sound of Screams”, “Unkinder (A Tougher Love)”, and “Come On Strong” represent the best of Thumpers and the best of this subgenre of rock and pop. The arrangements tumble – “Sounds of Screams” – and relentlessly rise on “Come On Strong” and the irrepressible “Unkinder (A Tougher Love)”. The latter, the album’s second best song and its most marketable iteration, marches to pounding tom drums and a chorus that soars into the stratosphere. Vocalists Marcus Pepperell and John Hamson Jr. sing the blithe lyric, “You’ve let us too far into your heart,” the knowledge that this type of emotive pop music holds the power to winnow its way into the souls of the listener. The hook modulates and hums between four pitches, hopscotching around and into the short term memories of people who believe their tiniest struggle is real, beautiful and important.
The slices between this type of moral victory pop and its overly emotive cousin are thin. And when Galore goes bad, it does so in the same remarkably bold fashion. “The Wilder Wise” heads for the top of the room, a plinking piano and big drums as its architecture, only to find a loud and bland chorus that only gets bigger and more unmoving as it unfolds. Subsequent track “Roller” confirms that Thumpers may well have spent their best hooks and ideas in the album’s first half. Though the final song, the aptly titled “Together Now” reminds the listener of the soaring and successful moments in Galore‘s opening five songs, the proverbial bloom is off the proverbial rose, an especially dangerous place for a band doing bloom, at times, so well.
The album’s center holds its strongest statement of self and purpose. The twin “Now We Are 16” and “Tame” display both the stupidity and beauty of youth. The former essentializes the debate with a titular lyric like, “Talk to me, girl, like we’re 16.” The desire to go back, to recapture, to “stay young”, even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, is how we begin to get warm; it’s how we fight our growing anesthesia. “Tame” represents the biggest and best song on the album: huge, rolling drums set against a dystopian Lion King vocal loop. Never has being unsettled felt so good or sounded so fun. The anxiety of the tweaking loops and the final movement settles the debate to an extent. You can want your youth back, you can sing along to these songs, it’s all an attempt to live a bit before we die. “Don’t leave our bodies that way,” they sing as if the animated instrument of our once and future corpse deserves consecration for its movement and belief alone. A correction of the old Cartesian anthem, the band seems to suggest the circular, “We were because we are.” This faith in the lives lived in the days before the darkness closes in grants Thumpers their transformative power and their unlimited naïveté its unique charm.