June 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
In which I conclude my letter to Thrice.
After Vheissu you decided to raise the bar and pursue your most ambitious project to date—The Alchemy Index. I remember being so excited that you were applying your musical acumen to a concept album revolving around the four elements, matching the sonic qualities of each disc (Fire, Water, Air, Earth) to the qualities of the elements. And while they didn’t end being my favorite thing you have ever done, the songs on each six-song disc sounded remarkably what I imagined each element might sound like as music. Fire was heavy, bludgeoning at times, yet carried a delicate beauty; Water was bathed in electronic blips and synths while buoyed by ethereal vocals and melodies; Air was light and peaceful, yet occasionally hit with the force of a tornado; and Earth was acoustic, steeped in folk, delivering an earthy, homey set of songs. Oh, and ending each disc with a sonnet from the perspective of the element was a brilliant touch.
My favorite songs from The Alchemy Index are scattered across the discs, with Air probably being my favorite of the four. From Fire, “The Arsonist” and its serpentine guitar riff is my favorite with “Burn the Fleet” being a close second. Water’s high points are opener “Digital Sea” and the gorgeous, melancholy “The Whaler.” For my money, Air is the most consistent, each song worthy of mention, but none more so than the soaring “Silver Wings,” one of the most beautiful songs I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. The highlight of Earth is “Come All You Weary,” especially as the full band kicks in near the end of the song. Yet, the true fun of The Alchemy Index is combining the songs in different ways, and listening to them in a different order, experimenting with placing the disparate elements next to each other to attempt a kind of synthesis.
Luckily for us, you created the very synthesis I am describing with your next two, and unfortunately last, albums—Beggars and Major/Minor. Beggars is rough and tumble rock and roll, incorporating qualities of The Alchemy Index into a more streamlined, gritty soundscape. It’s easy to hear the southern rock and blues influence on songs like “The Weight” and “Doublespeak,” yet it never overtakes your unique approach to music. Beggars had just dropped when I got the chance to see you live for the first time in Pittsburgh during my junior year of college: an incredible experience, even if the venue was jam-packed and uncomfortable at times. The subtle play between the harder elements of your past music and the newer, more melodic nature of some of the newer material on Beggars offers up some of its most intriguing moments. The title track is a slow-burner which eventually turns into a grungy mess of a song, highlighting the central message of the song and the album: “We are beggars all.” To hear such a resonant statement in the midst of the shiny, superficial music that often populates people’s iPods was, and still is, a breath of fresh air.
However, the songs on Beggars had a tendency to bleed together, lacking the sonic diversity that marked an album like Vheissu. Major/Minor solved this problem, and in many ways seems like a culmination of your music. There are heavy moments juxtaposed with soft, fast with slow, angry with peaceful: such is what I expect from a Thrice record. It’s smooth, almost effortless; clearly, you know how to make an album. I stayed up until 11 (CST, baby!) and downloaded the album as soon as it was available—the only other band I’ve done that for is U2. I don’t have much more to say about Major/Minor other than remarking about the palpable sense of finality that seems to pervade it. Especially now, looking back on it knowing this was your final album, there are moments that act as a closure to some of the themes, musically and lyrically that you have been exploring for your entire career. Indeed, you concluded the May 27th show with “Anthology,” a farewell song if there ever was one, including a multitude of references to previous songs from your discography. The chorus, directed at your fans at the show, says it all: “Oh, you know me and I know you. And I know we can see this through.”
So, at the end, it comes down to this. You are the first of my favorite bands to break up. Sure there were other bands I enjoyed who have parted ways over the course of the past ten years, but they did not have the same impact on my life as you did. For all you’ve meant to me, all I can offer is this—thank you.
Your devoted fan,
June 4, 2012 § Leave a comment
Part One of an open letter to Thrice, my favorite band, on the occasion of their farewell tour.
I can’t believe it’s all over—you’re not making music any more. I first met you in 2005, at the tender age of 16, just after you had released your fourth album Vheissu, which remains one of my favorite albums of all time, even now with seven more years of music listening under my belt. Shortly after this, I discovered 2003’s The Artist in the Ambulance, its hard-hitting music perhaps only overshadowed by its lyrical bite, and it wasn’t long before you became one of my favorite bands. You have remained so until this day, growing in my respect as you refused to sell out, but continued to push your music in new directions with what came after Vheissu. And if the show I was at on May 27th is indeed the final time I will see you, I wanted to write you this letter to thank you for what your music has meant to me throughout high school, college and, even, grad school.
What you probably don’t know is that your music came to me at a time I was breaking away from the maudlin Christian music that constituted the majority of my music library up until sophomore year of high school or so. I was discovering artists like U2 and Sufjan Stevens, broadening my musical horizons, and then I stumbled upon your music: heavy, deep and beautiful. Once Vheissu began with “Image of the Invisible” bursting from the ether, I was hooked: this was something different than I had heard before. And the album keeps hitting—“The Earth Will Shake,” “Hold Fast Hope,” and “Dust of Nations” just to name a few songs. Yet, it exquisitely balances these heavy riffs and harsh vocals with lighter tracks like “Atlantic” and “Music Box” before ending with “Red Sky.” I remember thinking to myself, “This is art. This band knows how to make deep, inspiring music without sacrificing artistry.”
I soon began listening to the rest of your music: the fantastic, stirring The Artist in the Ambulance; the fast-paced, aggrieved The Illusion of Safety; and the raw, energetic Identity Crisis. While Identity Crisis and The Illusion of Safety certain do not rise to the heights of your later work, it’s evident that from the beginning of your career there was something special, a certain spark in your music. For instance, “Phoenix Ignition” and “T&C,” the two songs from your debut album that you played at the show, contain passion and energy without resorting to manufactured anger. Then there’s “Deadbolt” from your second album, ripping through its two and half minute running time with a relentless focus and intensity before fading to a remorseful 30 seconds of piano, expertly highlighting the song’s interplay between passion and regret. My personal favorite from The Illusion of Safety is “So Strange I Remember You,” another song that balances slower passages with torrid drumming and guitar work to excellent effect.
As entertaining and exciting your first two albums were, nothing, for me at least, can compare with The Artist in the Ambulance and Vheissu. I don’t think there is one bad song on The Artist in the Ambulance, and many songs on that album were instrumental in helping me make sense of my final two years of high school. “Under a Killing Moon,” the inspiration of my Xbox gamertag, takes Arthur Miller’s The Crucible/the Salem Witch Trials and transforms their stories into a blistering rumination on standing up for your convictions. In fact, you almost sound like a different band—more confident, bolstered by better production values and improved music and vocals. Without letting up, the album moves into lead single “All That’s Left,” a story of faith lost due to a lack of room for questions, “We are the dead, a ghost of everything we thought but never said.” What you couldn’t have known is I was searching and asking questions of my faith, and this song and “Stare at the Sun” gave me the courage to keep asking those questions at a crucial point in my life. I remember singing along to the chorus of “Stare at the Sun” with all my might, just as I did the other night: “Cause I am due for a miracle, I’m waiting for a sign. I’ll stare straight into the sun, and I won’t close my eyes, ‘til I understand or go blind.”
To be continued…