Review Summary: Bran Flakes, Branston Pickle, mustard, red, green & yellow peppers, a quarter of a tomato, some ketchup...and Love. In which Thoria prove themselves, demonstrating streamlined songwriting and more hooks than an angler's fishing basket.
Receipt of critical praise for a début release is undoubtedly a double edged achievement. On the one hand, getting a push from a radio luminary such as John Peel would certainly broaden the potential audience for a band’s music, and in some circles, stand out as a mark of quality. However, the alternate view is that all too often a young band might implode when the pressure on them to surpass their initial works mounts; the more expected from a group the more likely they are to fail. Whether that implosion is a lacklustre second release or a complete dissolution ultimately boils down to the money invested in them thus far. So it was probably with some apprehension, Thoria, mooted by John Peel and the BBC’s Radio 1 on the back of their début “mini-album” Worry Dolls
, approached the making of that difficult second release. To further complicate matters the band were no longer with Organ Records, and although it’s difficult to ascertain why Thoria had decided to self-release their music, it’s unquestionable that this raised the stakes even further. Would this second record meet the expectations put upon it or prove to be just another footnote in history?
For better or for worse Lovesick
doesn’t stray far from the grunge blueprint set by Worry Dolls
, overflowing with sudden shifts in volume and subtle black humour. What has changed however is the songcraft on display. Where Worry Dolls
suffered from songs that dragged on a little too much and sets of slightly deranged lyrics which somewhat lacked memorability because they came across as musical Tourette’s, Lovesick
doesn’t. In fact the song writing demonstrated across these ten tunes is leaps and bounds ahead of that previous “mini-album”, resulting in music that is laced with a wry sense of dark humour and at times catchier than influenza. Furthermore that tendency to prolong songs is gone here – much like Slayer’s Reign in Blood
, at times it feels that Thoria were so full of energy they played twice as fast as planned, bashing out songs packed with exuberance. And at a total runtime of just over half an hour the songs themselves need to be memorable or the result is an album that ends up shelved that much faster….and by and large they are.
What does carry over from the past is the ‘sound’ of the band, with a stripped back almost DIY production style (perhaps in part due to costs associated with self-production). Whilst the vocals are clear in the mix, instrumentally it still sounds like three people bashing away haphazardly in a large empty room which, rather than acting as a detriment, serves to enhance that grunge aesthetic which the band embrace. As production choices go it’s a sensible aesthetic, and although at times the drums sound muffled, it’s a choice that only enhances the final product. The bass is still the backbone, with a thundering low end holding everything in place as the guitar either accentuates the melody or darts around all over the place. All things considered, when they’re not sandblasting the listener’s ears with acerbic choruses, these songs groove.
The quiet/loud dynamic is still the driving force behind Lovesick
, and for better or for worse the majority of songs still use the same sequence of soft-NOISY-soft-NOISY. And whilst on paper that pattern gets repetitive fast, by keeping the runtime short and the songs mostly swift it ends up working well. Perhaps the most marked departure for Thoria is the folky Navigator, a slow almost ballad like piece placed in the middle of the running order. It’s a sedate offering with no “loud” at all despite threatening to erupt during a threatening mid-song build, Martin Edwards’ lilting tone offering up a melancholic lullaby. But that’s the only real deviation from the plan previously established, and the other songs tread the path well-travelled, this time packed with pop hooks and youthful vigour.
The first four songs whizz by in blazing form, a quartet of swift punches to the head and gut. The trick quiet start of “I Got Satan”, the borderline hysterical delivery of “What a Day”, the ridiculously catchy “Keep em in the Attic” and the melodic rat-a-tat-tat of “Way It Keeps Going” all set a very high bar. Despite the integral quiet/loud dynamic these tracks are loaded with hooks and as a result of a change to a storytelling lyrical style end up being memorable. Nirvana worship aside “Keep Em In The Attic” is redolent of Cobain, menacingly delivered and teetering at the edge of control with layered vocals adding depth to the sound and a small a capella break heightening the inevitable eruption. It may be grunge template 101 but it’s most certainly effective. And where variation might be questioned Thoria insert songs like the aforementioned Navigator and the glorious pop-rock assault of “People Like You”, with its stabbing guitar melody and sing-along chorus. Whilst retaining that melancholic undertone it’s a song that revels in fun and alongside “Keep Em in the Attic” is an album highlight. Where the bass is the foundation of these tracks, Edward’s voice is the glue, capable of the shift between mournful and plaintive to unbridled aggression in a moment and coupled with a slightly off kilter singing style he turns a good set of songs into something else entirely.
whilst certainly not a front loaded album does tend to falter at its tail end however, mainly because the song writing falters and can’t sustain the quiet/loud jump without consistent tunes. Tracks such as Heroine and Hula suffer because they’re missing a spark that the others possess. The former, a noisy dirge which despite a crashing, tumbling melody doesn’t really go anywhere, the latter somewhere between a pop song and a schizophrenic tirade. They’re not bad tracks per se, but placed at the back of the album they pale in comparison to earlier songs which boast a more cohesive package. Where a record barrels through its play-time in a raucous rush it’s perhaps a difficult task to close it out successfully. Thoria sidestep one-upping themselves by delivering “This Reception”, a throwback to Worry Dolls
’ slow paced threat, shifting between softy spoken menace to discordant anguish.
At its core Lovesick
is a black hearted trek through a grunge landscape that’s based as much on fantasy as it is on the typical “woe is me” stereotype. That sense of fun, often almost straying into pop territory, makes Thoria’s first full length a pleasure to sit through, and it’s oft blistering pace packs a punch that matches the one-two of jumping between gentle to overpowering. Where Lovesick
falters it does so in small ways, but in terms of the album as a whole it leaves a disproportionate amount of impact. Is this a British competitor to Nevermind
? No, but It’s certainly a damn fine ride whilst it lasts.