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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Dustin Kensrue – Carry the Fire [2015]

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It’s been quite a long time since Dustin Kensrue, primarily known for being the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of Thrice, has put out a proper solo album. In 2007, he released Please Come Home, a folky, country-inflected acoustic offering that was remarkably different from Thrice’s material. In the interim between then and now, his output has consisted of a Christmas album in 2010, and a Christian Worship album, The Water & The Blood, in 2013, but nothing that resembled a proper follow up to his debut release. Dustin himself even put some distance between The Water & The Blood and his regular solo work, stating his intention to record something more secular and in line with Please Come Home after its release. And that album has finally arrived in the form of Carry the Fire, coming a full eight years after its predecessor.

That said, with such a big gap in between releases, Carry the Fire feels incredibly familiar and cozy. While it’s not quite as acoustically based as its predecessor, its feel is still very similar. Most of the music here is based around simple strummed chord progressions, acoustic backings and lightly distorted leads, the occasional flourish of piano, and a much more restrained vocal performance from Dustin (a performance that sounds much less gruff and strained than he has in recent years). This coziness is also supplied by the fact that, unlike in Thrice, Dustin is not quite as musically adventurous by his lonesome – most of the songs on Carry the Fire stick to similar tempos, instrumentation, and lyrical ideas. This is what causes that familiarity to come off as something negative, because as it stands, Carry the Fire ends up being a bit too much like a more produced and polished version of Please Come Home. This willingness to stick to the middle ground makes a short album feel longer than it really is, and the songs eventually start to bleed together. And where Dustin’s lyrical ability was one of the main draws of Thrice, at least personally, here he relegates himself almost entirely to writing love songs. It’s not as if he lacked for source material, after all of the drama that came from him first becoming a pastor at Mars Hill Church, then stepping down after coming into contact with the organization’s shady characters and ungodly practices. In light of this, it makes the fact that song after song retreads over the same theme of devoted love and family stand out like a sore thumb. And while that’s certainly one of the most rewarding and fulfilling feelings one can have in life, and it’s hard to begrudge the man for being so enamored with it, it doesn’t make for exciting music when it functions as the main pillar of an album. This feeling of contentment is one of the reasons that the album sticks so close to its established blueprint, because for an album entitled Carry the Fire, there’s not a whole hell of a lot of it.

Though I’ve just spent the better half of this review assailing this new album, that’s not to say that it is entirely without highlights. “Gallows” has an energy akin to one of Thrice’s more heavy tracks thanks to the foundation its distorted bass riff lays. And “Of Crows and Crowns” has finally found itself laid to tape after years of being performed as part of Dustin’s solo sets, and it sounds as good as it ever did (if not better for the addition of little flourishes of piano sprinkled throughout). And the title track, “Carry the Fire” is one of the most emotionally charged tracks on the album. Exhibiting dynamics that much of the album doesn’t, it builds up from its initial slow burn into a rousing chorus, finally letting Dustin unleash his voice on an album mostly free of such opportunities. But the reason why Carry the Fire is such a letdown is because, simply put, Dustin can do better than this. With being part of one of the best rock discographies of the 2000s under his belt, and an excellent solo debut in Please Come Home, he’s proved himself as an amazing songwriter time and again. But his writing hasn’t been quite the same since Thrice’s hiatus, and his Worship music debut. Dustin admitted that he focused more on writing simpler hooks and songs so that his congregation would be able to follow along with them more easily, a point he made sure to underline with that album’s release, but it doesn’t seem like he’s quite left that mode yet. While the songs are no longer about God, their structures and melodies could easily fit on The Water & The Blood. And ultimately, this simplicity in both lyric and form is what makes Carry the Fire a listen that, while good enough on its own merits, is not a compelling or even particularly unique release in full view of the man’s past work. And ultimately, from the frontman whose band made a career out of trouncing expectations and following their muse into whatever new sound or idea caught their attention next, that’s a problem.

KEY TRACKS: Back to Back, Gallows, Of Crows and Crowns, Carry the Fire

Thrice Post Cryptic ‘Thrice 2015’ Image

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Remember Thrice? That post-hardcore band that put out the landmark albums The Illusion of Safety and The Artist in the Ambulance before morphing into the genre’s answer to Radiohead, releasing the genre-bending Vheissu and The Alchemy Index? Well, in 2012, they announced their intentions to do a farewell tour, and after completing it, they disappeared into that infamous purgatory known as the ‘hiatus’.

Well, it looks like they’re gearing up to put an end to that hiatus and reform in 2015, with the above image being posted on their website this morning. The background appears to be a stage of some sort, or possibly a studio, but either way it’s great news. The hopes of Thrice ever reuniting seemed to grow slimmer with each passing month, with it’s members splitting off into new groups (Riley to baseball-inspired grindcore band Puig Destroyer, Eddie to Tom DeLonge’s alt rock outfit Angels and Airwaves), and in Dustin’s case, into a almost-but-not-quite religious cult in the form of embattled Mars Hill Church. With Eddie abandoning Angels and Airwaves, and Dustin coming to his senses and leaving the sinking ship of Mars Hill, it seems enough of the pieces have come back together to lead to this moment.

Dustin said in his AMA on Reddit back in March, that a tour was “very very likely” and that he “hoped for and suspected” a recording of some kind as well. Whatever their intentions, the fact that they’re restarting the Thrice machine is great news, and I can’t wait for what they do next.

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/