On their third album Thunderbirds Are Now! turn to pop for inspiration. It works well in combination with the group's dance-punk sound.
We're coming into that time period where bands that made it big via the blogosphere are trying to figure out their next step. Thunderbirds Are Now! weren't so much discovered by the internet as recovered from a poorly-begun trajectory (their debut, Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief, sacrificed originality and lasting appeal for one-off joke-spaz punk). 2005's Justamustache was Les Savvy Fav streamlined, a chugging new wave showcase of hook and melody, and in general just a much more polished effort. But it was released on the exact same day as Bloc Party's Silent Alarm. That piece of disposable homage overshadowed the higher-quality release, with its multicultural bombast and dance rhythms inclusive enough for those indie-lovers closest to the mainstream.
So is 2006 a better time for this sound, a better time for the group to really establish themselves as a legitimate player on the indie rock scene? Not really. We've been inundated with wave after wave of mediocre dance-punk containing nominal shades of difference. It's sometimes hard to tell them apart, and easier to just tune them out. Recently it seems that this crowded space has been increasingly turning away from punk and post-punk and dance-punk to electro and heavy metal and electro-metal -- dirtier and darker sounds.
But a high quality album should transcend release-date timing issues, and surprisingly TAN!'s Make History, for the most part, does this in a pretty convincing way. The hallmarks of their new-established Justamustache sound are still here -- and the album's not all winners, of course -- but a consistent adherence to the conventions of pop music (verse / chorus, major keys, one-idea-per-song structures) turns out to work well for this band when applied to their upbeat post-punk aesthetic.
"Panthers In Crime" kicks things off on a high note: opening with a sweet guitar arpeggio and swirling, psychedelic background, it's an effective and catchy start to the album. As increasingly intrusive electronics take over, marking the transition to the band's more recognizable peppy LSF guitars and pop-punk texture changes (pulling back to build up again at the chorus), the band settles into a comfortable space that characterizes the bulk of Make History. But then "The Veil Comes Down" reminds us of the swirling sonics and shouted-out enthusiasm that were so attractive on previous efforts (and the chorus here's a real winner).
The electronic accents and flourishes that feature more or less prominently within these songs provide a large measure of the interest here. "Shit Gold" features a more laid-back, wobbly or anorexic keyboard; it's a really interesting sound that reflects the slight disgust in Ryan Allen's voice as he delivers the lines:
There is a man,
Or so I am told,
That he can swallow the dirt,
To shit into gold.
"Open Us Up" has a wobbly, warbling electronic effect that flutters over the top of all the trad-punk guitars. It's reminiscent of the sentiment of "Trapdoor" from Jebediah's pop-punk masterpiece Of Someday Shambles, though TAN!'s evened out all the sound levels, making the guitars less biting, the vocals more conventionally appealing.
Still, there are the obligatory punk-album filler tracks -- "Sound Issues / Smart Ideas" never really rises above its dance-rock groove, and "Shake Them Awake" is likewise indistinguishable in its mediocrity. But at least the band knows how to not outstay their welcome: two verses, a couple of choruses, and the songs end efficiently -- these guys are no blossoming prog experimentalists. It's worth emphasizing: TAN! are concerned with fun.
Which must mean that the album's title, Make History, is meant ironically. And it's true, in the end, that the most conventional bits and pieces of the album are the most charming: from the "We've heard this one before" chorus of "We Win (Ha Ha)" to the "Ba da da da" singalong of the last song "(The Making Of...) Make History". It's all an easy acknowledgment of influence, at the same time an exhortation -- can we all just get on with having some fun now? TAN! make it easy, and I'm in no mood to argue: tune out and enjoy!