Thomas Lunch: Diagrams Without Instructions

Quentin B. Huff

Is there really a song here about tator tots and robots? Yes. And about Leonard Nimoy. And Greta Garbo. But it's all so good.

Thomas Lunch

Diagrams Without Instructions

Label: Hi Fi
US Release Date: 2007-02-27
UK Release Date: Available as import

I realized the brilliance of Thomas Lunch's debut, Diagrams Without Instructions, the way a cartoon character sees smoke ("Huh?"), smells something burning ("sniff, sniff"), and then realizes he's the "something" burning ("Yeeeooowwww!"). First, I saw his name, and then I saw the album title. As soon as the first track, "Fire Puppy", smacked my ears with its handclaps and blazing guitars, it was all over.

Diagrams is a difficult work to classify. You might say it's a neo-indie-electric-grunge-blues fusion. Then again, you might not. Try this: Take Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet (the guitars and the vocals) and cross it with Pearl Jam's Vitalogy (the style and song structure moreso than the bad-ass rugged heftiness of Eddie Vedder's vocals). Got that? All right, add a splash of Nirvana, plus a drop of Prince and a smidgeon of INXS (check out "You Are My Drug"). Now take those comparisons, and the styles they represent, and reformat them into a wholly original, authentic concoction. Nice work, if you can get it. And we as consumers don't seem to be getting it that often. Maybe that's why, in "Centipede Centerpiece", Lunch demands, "Why all the fools make all the ... / Why all the fools make all the ... / Why all the fools make all the rules?"

The album succeeds because, despite its musical diversity, it sounds wonderfully cohesive, emanating from the same insightfully disturbed and wildly inspired source. Uptempo rock, along the lines of "Very Elbow" and the aforementioned "Fire Puppy", keeps company with the eccentricity of "Tator Tots & Robots", which opens to dense pulsating beats similar to those in Prince's "Let's Pretend We're Married", and otherwise reminds me of a faster-paced "Take On Me" by A-ha. The pace of awesomely titled "I Love You When You Throw a Fit" sits comfortably in the same collection as mellow guitar interlude "Full Moon Fingerhorn", or the beautifully melancholy "Beginnings".

You know you've got skills when you can make people praise you because of, rather than in spite of, song titles like "Tator Tots & Robots", "Greta Garbo", and the boldly-going-where-no-other-rocker-could-go "Leonard Nimoy". It's fresh enough, interesting enough, and innovative enough to make people (like me), who get off on criticizing musicians, say, "Hey, you gotta hear this CD. It's hot." My main nitpick (couldn't let you off that easy, Mr. Lunch!) is that the songs are, overall, too short. Out of the 14, only two last longer than four minutes, which means just when you're getting into the zone, the jam is over and you're left with the feeling the world won't stop bouncing. Luckily, with Diagrams, you'll realize it's not the world that's moving so quickly; it's your head that won't stop nodding.


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

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

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
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

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