[7 May 2009]
There is nothing at all groundbreaking about what Isis and Grahm Zilla do on their first full-length effort as Thunderheist. This is music for the clubs, for sweaty nights on overcrowded dancefloors with the air smelling of a potent mix of sweat and vodka-based drinks. Every track on this self-titled album is utterly perfect for such a situation. Zilla’s production sounds appropriately futuristic without getting in the way of the beats, and Isis’ oft-chanted vocals are charismatic without ever becoming grating. It’s almost impossible not to get up and get down when Thunderheist shows up on the speakers—it’s positively infectious.
The beautiful thing about it, though, is that it actually works outside the club as well. You could turn this on at work for a pick-me-up twice as potent as that double shot of espresso that you usually use. You could turn it on at home and use it as the perfect soundtrack for spring cleaning. Turn it on in the car and pretend you’re riding on hydraulics (or, alternately, start bouncing if you’re actually riding on hydraulics).
Part of this is thanks to the interesting sense of history that Thunderheist brings to the airwaves. “Sweet 16” kicks off with a bassline that plays like an update of Delta 5’s classic “Mind Your Own Business”, yet it turns into a song about the dangers of underage clubbing. The thing is, when you listen to this song, you barely hear the words, because that beautiful gem of a bassline carries you along for the next four minutes, and then the song ends, and it’s all you remember. And that’s OK, because it’s such a great bassline.
From there, you careen from disco-diva style (“Nothing 2 Step 2”) to something bordering on crunk (“Bubblegum”) to the bass-heavy stuff reminiscent of the sleepless nights I spent so long ago next door to a stereo that I never managed to will to spontaneously combust (“Slow Roll”). Thunderheist manages to turn these sounds—none of which tend to be particularly appealing in and of themselves—into a consistent yet varied experience that ebbs and crests in all the right places to allow the listener the patience to make it through 13 tracks of the stuff. Even the final track, “Anthem”, based around such a trite device as spelling out “Thunderheist”, makes sure you’re spelling right along with it.
What you should not expect from Thunderheist is to be enlightened. Impressive as Isis is throughout the album, not once does she ever give the impression that she spent a lot of time on her words. While there are proper verses and choruses, most of it turns into the sort of repeated sloganeering designed to ingrain itself into your head after a single listen. Most of it is pretty harmless—“Shimmy shimmy cocoa puffs” shows up in multiple places, as do multiple variations of “get up off the wall” and “where’s the party?”. A troubling identification of gender roles shows up over and over again in “Jerk It” (“Let him know you worth it / Dust it off and jerk it”), but it’s hard to get too worked up about that when they’re clearly just present because “worth it” is close enough of a rhyme to “jerk it”.
Still, sloganeering is fine as long as the music makes you dance, which Thunderheist does. One gets the impression that if Isis and Zilla saw someone listening to their album and not dancing (or at least bobbing their head while doing whatever else they’re doing), they would regard it as a personal slight, to be corrected as quickly and efficiently as possible. Listening to it, it’s hard to imagine such a thing happening anyway.