Therapy?: A Brief Crack of Light

Therapy? has been around for over 20 years at this point, but they're still able to effectively toe the line between metal and punk without sacrificing melody. Small sonic tweaks keep this album feeling fresh.


A Brief Crack of Light

Label: Global Music Group
US Release Date: 2012-09-25
UK Release Date: 2012-02-06

Therapy?'s fleeting taste of mainstream success came in the early to mid-'90s, when Nirvana's rising tide lifted all sorts of bands who otherwise wouldn't ever have had a chance of showing up on the radio. They've always been a band that toes the line between metal and punk, but singer/guitarist/songwriter Andrew Cairns also has an ear for melody. So singles like "Screamager" and "Nowhere" were catchy enough to earn the band airplay in the heyday of grunge and alternative music. 1994's Troublegum album was one of the underrated gems of that decade, but '95's Infernal Love was a knottier, more difficult record. When that album failed to replicate the band's earlier success, they lost their major label deal and slid back into the underground.

But Cairns and bassist Michael McKeegan have kept the band alive, and A Brief Crack of Light, their eleventh album, finds them just as hard-hitting as ever. Opening track and lead single "Living in the Shadow of the Terrible Thing" is a great illustration of what Therapy? does well. A pulsating bass line drives the song alongside Neil Cooper's tight, compact drumming. Cairns shout-sung chorus seems wordy -- "Alone and unnoticed on the busy street / I'm living in the shadow of the terrible thing / Windows shatter and alarm bells ring / I'm living in the shadow of the terrible thing" -- but it's surprisingly easy to sing along with it. Strange little touches give the song character, like the odd decaying guitar noise that follows the chorus, and the unexpected snare drum rolls from Cooper. The pounding "Plague Bell" comes next, and its placement almost seems like a reaction to the relative accessibility of "Living in the Shadow of the Terrible Thing". A static bass and kick drum rhythm thump along under Cairns' fully shouted vocals. Meanwhile, Cairns' guitar fills the gaps where he isn't doubling the main rhythm with squalling noise, and he tops it off with a climactic, completely amelodic guitar solo.

These opening two tracks are a sort of mission statement for the album, showcasing the two types of songs the band has always done quite well. Having established that, Therapy? spends a lot of A Brief Crack of Light on small musical experiments. The wordless "Marlow" begins with catchy guitar harmonics and simple hi-hat cymbals before opening up into a more fully fleshed out upbeat track. Cairns adds a singsongy guitar riff to the song and then actually sings along with the riff. Cooper even goes so far as expand that simple hi-hat rhythm into a full-on disco beat at certain points in the song. "Get Your Dead Hand Off My Shoulder" starts as a typical slower song, driven by McKeegan's bass and utilizing minimal guitar. The twist is that Cairns does the chorus a cappella, so the song seems to stop dead every time he sings "Time speeds up / I get older / Get your dead hand off my shoulder." It makes the creepy post-chorus guitar riff even more effective, and when the bridge of the song stops completely for several seconds, you honestly can't tell if the song is over or just taking a break until Cairns starts singing again.

This minimalism is followed by "Ghost Trio", a song that features Cairns playing the same guitar rhythm on a single note throughout the entire song. The bass, drums, and vocals proceed as normal, and it's a strong song for the band. At over five minutes long, it feels like the band is stretching out and jamming on this simple riff. From the way the riff is de-emphasized through the course of the song, it almost seems like Cairns wrote the track as sort of an easter egg for sharp-eared listeners.

Less successful is the album-closing "Ecclesiastes". It's an uncharacteristically quiet track, with a very basic guitar melody and barely-there drums. Cairns' voice is heavily processed into distorted robot vocals, and practically the only lyrics are "Everything under the sun / Is absurd." As a change of pace, it's well-intentioned, but the repetitive nature of the music and lyrics makes you feel every second of the almost six minutes.

The rest of A Brief Crack of Light is right in the band's wheelhouse, splitting the difference between catchier material and harsher songs. "Before You, With You, After You" is a punchy track that uses the same robot vocals as "Ecclesiastes" but limits them to singing harmony on the song's chorus. It's much more effective in this more limited context. The band's willingness to tinker with their basic sound on this album gives it a feeling of freshness without straying too far from what they do best. Even after 20-plus years, the band still has a lot of snap and energy, and that feeling permeates most of this album.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.