Thrice – To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere [2016]

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In 2012, after over 13 years of relentless touring, writing, and recording, Thrice decided to hit that ever-infamous “hiatus” button. The grind of being in a band their size had worn them down over those years, and they needed time to spend with their families – the value of which had been made even more apparent after several members losing loved ones during their last album cycle. With that in mind, the band embarked on a “farewell” tour that dug deep through fan-selected favorites, culminating in a huge 33-song long final show in July 2012. After that, the band dispersed to their families and new projects: Dustin became a pastor, Teppei opened a leather crafts shop, Riley started a baseball-themed grindcore band, and Eddie put in time with Angels & Airwaves. But the break didn’t last long, and in the waning days of 2014, the band announced their intention to get back together. And in a little under two years, they’ve returned with their first album of new music since 2011’s Major/Minor.

To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere finds Thrice essentially picking up where they left off with Major/Minor. The grungy, dirty rock sound they’ve had on that album and on Beggars before it is still firmly in place, but it seems like reconvening has also given them greater appreciation of where their music has come from in the past. One of the most obvious cues the band has picked back up are the larger, meatier guitar parts reminiscent of their Fire EP – “Death From Above” and “Blood on the Sand” both move with more power and weight than the band has shown in years, and while not quite as heavy, “Black Honey” and “The Window” pick up much of that EP’s dark and brooding undertones as well. “Hurricane” opens the album with a thick swirl of guitars and brooding atmosphere appropriate for the title, feeling as if it really could be buoyed on the winds of a storm. In fact, this record finds the band turning up the sludge and brood in every aspect, not just on the guitars – this thing is downright dirty sounding. Even in it’s most friendly and approachable moments, there’s a sense of claustrophobia and grit in the mix that doesn’t relent. Yet “Salt and Shadow” exists on that same album, a song with a gentle, heavenly atmosphere that would be able to slot itself perfectly on the band’s Air EP. But that’s about the only air and light that manages to work its way in both musically and lyrically.

Lyrically, To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere finds Dustin focusing much less on faith (as he had on more recent Thrice albums) and more on the social and political issues he first touched on with The Artist in the Ambulance. “Blood on the Sand” is a take down of the frightened apathy that causes us to build walls to keep out our fellow man instead of making an attempt at connection, and “Death From Above” tackles our willingness to bomb those same people from afar without ever putting a name or face to them. “Whistleblower” is an obviously pro-Snowden song, celebrating the individuals who risk their freedom and lives to enlighten the rest of the world to a massive wrongdoing, and “Black Honey” focuses on our often blind conquest to take the things we need without considering how the blow-back might affect us. It’s refreshing to hear Dustin have something to get angry about again, because it helps lend power to both the music and his own vocal delivery. Plus, even though some of the lyrics here suffer from being very on-the-nose, it’s brave for a band of their size to deliver a comeback album with lyrics that could potentially polarize old and new fans alike.

But for all the base-touching they do on this album, it feels like they’ve forgotten to bring anything fresh to the table. As a longtime fan you might be happy to hear those flourishes from throughout their discography, and as a new fan, they might even seem unique to you. But it’s disappointing that after five years apart – in such vastly different bands and even parts of the country – that they haven’t found one new thing to bring to the mix. In fact, a handful of tracks find the band veering dangerously close to rock cliché instead: “Wake Up” featuring a tired cock rock-esque chorus that settles for repeating the song’s title in place of any sort of lyricism, and “Stay With Me” apes U2’s worst arena rock tendencies and mixes them with a dash of sludgy guitars to no effect. At its worst, To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere ironically finds the band sloughing off some of their character and flair in an attempt to be both radio-friendly and to pay homage to their previous sonic explorations.

Sadly, this album ends up being very much a mixed bag. There are flashes of the band’s former glories littered in almost every track, but they’re also tempered by some of the band’s blandest moments ever put to tape. It’s not a bad album in any sense of the word, but after five years apart and plenty of exploration for each one of their members, it’s a shame that To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere finds Thrice simply mining old territory and watering down the rest. Perhaps this is just the band’s way of getting back to ground, consolidating the parts of the band they loved the most as a springboard for whatever comes next. Or perhaps middle age and family life has dulled their fire to prove themselves and take huge risks. And perhaps it’s too easy to compare this album to the rest of the band’s towering discography, because if this were any other band, it might be something fairly special. But in the end, they’ve simply put out an okay album after so many great ones. It happens.

Key Tracks: Hurricane, Blood on the Sand, The Long Defeat, Death From Above

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letlive. – If I’m the Devil… [2016]

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letlive. have made no secret about the arduous process behind creating their newest record, “If I’m the Devil…”. Early in 2015, key member and guitarist Jean Nascimento left the band, and it seemed like the remaining members were suddenly at a crossroads. They tried out several touring guitarists, but no one seemed to stick, and eventually they settled on staying a four piece. Asides from that, it seemed that they were at a creative crossroads as well – the band had always pulled together incredibly diverse styles, drawing from punk, hardcore, soul, pop, and more to create their signature sound. But with a key member out of the mix, and the band’s maturing age, they had some soul searching to do. For better and for worse, “If I’m the Devil…” is the result.

It’s immediately clear that this album is different right from the opening track, “I’ve Learned to Love Myself”. Where their previous albums typically opened up with a bang, this track offers up twinkling guitar arpeggios, sweeping violins, and an emotional (yet restrained) vocal from Jason Butler. It sets much of the tone for this record, showing that the band is now opting for space and subtlety instead of packing every decibel with wall-to-wall riffs and throat-shredding vocals. And while that’s not necessarily new for them, it was something they only ever flirted with in passing to spice up a song, never used as the basis of them. Songs like “Reluctantly Dead” and “If I’m the Devil…” benefit greatly from this approach, building up tension and releasing them in ways that their former “all cylinders at all times” approach couldn’t. There’s also a lot more space for the band to play around with different sounds: “Foreign Cab Rides” is a song soaked in spacey, reverb-laden guitars with an explosive middle eight courtesy of guitarist Jeff Sahyouhn, “Good Mourning America” works in a sort of modern spiritual that seamlessly fades into the actual song, and the aforementioned “I’ve Learned to Love Myself” wouldn’t be the track it was if not for the inclusion of its emotional strings. All of this space also leads to another interesting, if not obvious, turn for the band: Jason is finally given room to rest his hellion screech and instead loose his soulful, emotive singing voice on these tracks. It’s been clear since “Muther” that Jason had a hell of a set of pipes on him, but the band’s frantic and aggressive music rarely lent him the opportunity to use it with any frequency. But here, he often channels his inner Michael Jackson, firing off catchy chorus after catchy chorus with ease. It might be a hard change to stomach for fans of the band’s hardcore edge, but the band was running the risk of falling into self-parody if it just churned out another recordful of pissed off scream-alongs.

But there’s another side to that, as well. In the name of evolution, the band has also written off a few of the things that made them truly interesting and exciting. While exploring melody and space is new for letlive., it’s also had the side-effect of scrubbing them down into something much more radio-friendly and generic. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but much of what was interesting about letlive. was their ability to fuse creative and inventive guitar work into even the slower and catchier portions of their music. Instead, when the band tries to let loose and fire off a missive reminiscent of their “old” days on “Another Offensive Song”, we’re treated with a simplistic power chord chug that sounds like it could’ve been written by just about any garage band. “A Weak Ago” suffers a similar fate, being built around a cliché blues-inspired guitar strum that leads only into an arpeggiated version of the same chords later on. In fact, almost every prominent guitar part on this album is incredibly simplified, often being content to settle for power chord chugs and arpeggios in every song. In that light, it suddenly becomes hard to tell if this record’s space and texture was inspired by genuine creative necessity, or simply necessity born of Jean’s departure.

At the end of the day, though, “If I’m the Devil…” works. While they’ve always had an element of pop and rock laced through their music, deciding to lean almost entirely on that sound was a risky move, and one a band their size wouldn’t take unless they felt it was creatively necessary. This record is vital to the band’s continued existence, because it opens up sonic doors to them that would’ve stayed locked had they decided to keep writing angry song after angry song. To finally know for sure that this band has the range to write songs as emotional as “I’ve Learned to Love Myself” alongside politically charged groove rock tunes like “Good Mourning America” and “Reluctantly Dead”, and on the same record as a screamer like “Another Offensive Song” is exciting, because it was only ever hinted at before, and means their next record could sound like anything. Sure, there might still be a few kinks to work out, but this album could be the launching point for something even more different later on. All of which simply means that letlive. have traded energies: where once it seemed like the band could destroy anything, anyone, or itself at any given moment, instead it feels like they could make anything, anywhere at any given moment. And that’s a great feeling.

Key Tracks: I’ve Learned to Love Myself, Good Mourning America, Foreign Cab Rides, If I’m the Devil

Artist Feature/Review: The Armed – Untitled

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The Armed have never been a band that minces words, and they have no need for shiny adornments or sparkly gimmicks. Instead, they have one motto at their core – “Destroy Everything”. And if you’ve ever heard their music, it’s incredibly fitting. Their songs get right to their point, and that point is to cause as much havoc as humanly possible using the typical rock band setup. Being based out of Detroit, Michigan, that urge to rage and destroy rings very true: steeped in the history of a once-great city that has now become desolate and derelict, The Armed have every fucking right to be angry, and angry they’ve been. This band has been hardcore music’s best kept secret, having been flying under the radar ever since their 2009 debut album These Are Lights. Since then the band has kept up a steady trickle of short, incendiary EPs, slowly growing a small but dedicated fan base, but have yet to release another full-length until last week.

Untitled comes roaring out of the gate with all of the trademarks of The Armed’s sound. Equal parts Dillinger-inspired punk chaos, sludge metal, and DIY punk aesthetic, every song on this album is designed to punch you in the face as hard as possible. And punch it does – produced by Converge legend Kurt Ballou, the band has never sounded heavier or clearer (at least when they want to) than they do on this album. Having this legendary producer behind the boards gives the band even more brunt behind their sonic assault, but it also gives them room to spread their wings as well. “Polarizer” features a Nine Inch Nails-esque breakdown that amplifies its desperate verses, and the first half of “Dead Actress” sounds akin to a Mark Lanegan solo song (at least before the latter half rips it wide open). And while not too far of a stretch for the band, “Paradise Day” sounds almost like Blink-182, at least if Tom DeLonge had taken a lethal dose of amphetamines before hitting the studio, anyway. These moments are a breath of fresh air on an album that might otherwise threaten to stagnate – a continuous wall-to-wall 41 minute assault could fatigue even the most dedicated of hardcore fans without a diversion here and there. It’s a tricky line to walk for a band that’s mostly released EPs under the ten minute mark, but The Armed pull it off with flying colors.

But really, that’s enough talking from my end. The Armed are a band that’s consistently furious, powerful, and three-dimensional, with enough awareness to let other influences shine through once in a while. And the best part of all this? If you head on over to thearmed.bandcamp.com, you can get all of their music for free, no strings attached. So you now have no excuse.

Thrice – Vheissu (2005)

     

     In the early 2000’s, the post-hardcore scene was blooming. Coheed and Cambria, Thursday, Saosin, At the Drive In, and many others were releasing genre-defining records and building huge fan bases. Among these bands was Thrice – a 4 piece hailing from California, who had been slowly working their way up from the smallest of clubs since 1999’s Identity Crisis. By 2003, with the release of The Artist in the Ambulance, the band had built up a huge fanbase and was now signed to a major label, in the form of Island Records.

     From Identity Crisis to The Artist in the Ambulance, Thrice had developed considerably. As songwriters they had grown to incorporate more mature themes into their music and lyrics, discussing politics, faith, and philosophy. And musically, they were now delivering pummeling drop tuned riffs that were markedly different from the loose, frenetic leads and lines from their earlier work. It was starting to become obvious that this band was the real deal, who cared more about chasing their muse and creating meaningful music than selling records.

     This trend finally culminated in what was their biggest sonic leap yet in 2005, with the release of Vheissu. Vheissu is what happens when a band pushes their boundaries as far as they can go, delighting in the process of tearing them down and replacing them with wide open pastures.

     So, perhaps ironically, the opening track is a complete misdirect. Image of the Invisible is the most pre-Vheissu sounding song on the album, mostly keeping in line with their previous post-hardcore sound, but scrubbing away most of the furious riffs that marked that style. This contrast and misdirect is part of what makes this such an amazing album, though. If not for that brief reminder, it would be hard to believe that this was the same band.

     Vheissu reveals it’s true self with the second track, Between the End and Where We Lie. A moody track based around a fragile keyboard line, yet propelled and contrasted by Riley Breckinridge’s heavy drumming, it was the slowest song they’d recorded to that point. Drenched in reverb and sparse layers of guitar, it’s an introspective track that soothes in the verses and explodes in the choruses.

     Those qualities set a precedent for the rest of the album, where songs like ‘The Earth Will Shake’, ‘Atlantic’, and ‘Red Sky’ find them toying with a newfound sense of dynamics and emotional push/pull. Here, Thrice’s writing is no longer riff-centric, rather it is based around varying keyboard, synthesizer, piano, and even music box lines (found on the aptly titled ‘Music Box’). While not completely relegated to the background, the electric guitar takes on much more of a supporting, chord-based role than a lead one for the majority of the album. This alone makes Vheissu an incredibly diverse album musically, with this range of new sounds allowing them to go in completely fresh directions.

     It would be easy to say they were selling out by softening their sound and including this range of new sounds and textures, especially considering how heavy some of their earlier work could be. But that argument falls apart once you notice that, despite all the changes on the surface, this is still very much Thrice. Songs like Hold Fast Hope and Image of the Invisible still evoke shades of the punky, heavy band they were before, but now they’re filtered through the huge sound of a band like, say, Deftones. And their sense of emotion is still intact as well – songs like For Miles and Like Moths to Flames simmer anxiously, and then explode into twisted, angry pleas. Dustin Kensrue’s sense of lyricism is just as intelligent and creative as ever, and finds him mining new lyrical territory as well. The Earth Will Shake puts himself in the shoes of a prisoner on a chain gang, Of Dust and Nations ponders on materialism and knowing what you should truly value, and For Miles talks about recovering from emotional trauma and recognizing the hurt in others. Thrice made a concentrated effort to step out of their comfort zones, and by and large, it worked wonderfully.

     From start to finish, Vheissu is a journey. In every sense of the word, it’s an ‘album’, meant to be heard from start to finish. It’s the type of listen that you can lose yourself inside of, creating its own little world without breaking character at any point. It’s an album characterized as much by ambience and texture as it is aggression and power, slipping easily between explosive codas and huge power chords; introspective synth lines and near-whispered vocals. Every song showcases something new for the band, even when they revisit familiar territory, and that’s what makes this such a worthwhile and fascinating record. Few bands ever have the courage to take such a bold leap away from the sound that made them famous, and even fewer manage to pull it off so well that it comes to define them. With Vheissu, Thrice put themselves ahead of the pack, making music far outside the scene that they were born in, and set them on a creative course that allowed them to try out many new sounds, instead of stagnating within one. Vheissu is an often overlooked album, but if you do stumble upon it, you’ll discover one of the very best albums written in the first decade of the new millenium.

Key Tracks: Red Sky, Of Dust and Nations, For Miles, Music Box

Pylon Records Reissues Thrice Classic ‘The Artist in the Ambulance’ on Vinyl

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Pylon Records has released a repress of the modern post hardcore classic, Thrice’s The Artist in the Ambulance! This repress is limited to 2,000 copies, 1,000 of which are a normal black LP, 500 which are Translucent Blue, and 500 Translucent Red, the color I nabbed above. The LP is a 180 gram record mastered from the original source files specifically for vinyl, for the best sound possible. Given the rarity of Thrice’s music on vinyl, this is a great grab for any fan of the band, even if you don’t own a turntable (though getting one should be on top of your to-do list!). This reissue also sports the album’s original artwork, instead of the iconic white-framed cover that is so familiar.

It’s worth noting that the same company also repressed Vheissu a few months back, in the same 180 gram format (also with restored vinyl artwork). That might be pretty close to selling out by now, so don’t sleep on it if you want both of these classic records in your collection.

Throw your money at the screen mercilessly here:

http://www.pylonrecords.com/