Review Summary: Rarely can bands begin with a perfect jump start, and this rough hewn EP provides a lovable, fun introduction to Thrice's career.
Thrice - First Impressions
Straight up, Thrice is my favorite band. I love them in every incarnation. This is because not only do they consistently reinvent their sound, but they always write incredibly challenging and successful music in the midst of trying something new every album. LP-wise, it all started with Identity Crisis
, which established Thrice a a solid melodic hardcore band that was heavily influenced by skate punk and 80s metal guitar. Then came The Illusion of Safety
, which saw Thrice take their mix of influences and blend them more smoothly than they had onIdentity Crisis
. The pop punk elements were catchier, the hardcore was more brutal, and the metal was more technically proficient. It is this album that is typically considered their best by Thrice fans. After that came, The Artist in the Ambulance
, which was a sell out for most of their totally hella mad hardcore fans. TAITA
had an even further stratification of pop punk and metal, by having the poppiest parts be catchier and the metal parts more mathy and teched out. It was on this album that the notion of "hardcore" sort of dropped out of the mix. Then, lastly, Vheissu
featured a dropping of the original influences altogether, and the introduction of new influences like post-metal (Isis, Deftones, Pelican) and radio rock (Cave In, Radiohead). Most people identify the changes a band undergoes through the course of their career as "evolution." Evolution suggests some kind of forward of upward progression, which is not the most fitting way to describe Thrice's movement. I feel like Thrice has always been on top of their game in producing good music, but the genre they use to produce that good music, is always changing.
Now that we are in the Vheissu
era of Thrice's continuous metamorphosis, we are at a time at which Thrice's earliest album, Identity Crisis
, is the most distant and unusual. I bet that brand new Thrice fans who don't know about TAITA
, could hear Identity Crisis
and believe it to be the work of some random Southern California melodic hardcore band, not the Thrice they think they know. However, to go to the most distant point from the current album, one has to look to the precursor to Identity Crisis
, the EP First Impressions
. First Impressions
sounds like Identity Crisis
but slightly more punk, and with much worse production value. That's a pretty accurate, yet simple way of understanding their progression. They started as simple punks who could play their instruments mad quickly and moved towards being more avant garde and challenging with their music. First Impressions
is really not a great album or anything. It's only an EP
but it has some really great moments on it, though it doesn't function well as an album at all.
As a way of understanding or analyzing this it's best to look at each element of the band for what it's good for, a look at how First Impressions
hints at that but doesn't fulfill it. Firstly, notice the technicality of the instruments. Thrice's biggest draw-in, especially during their IOS
days, was the guitar riffs. Teppei is the man, but once, he was more like the boy. Here the guitar is good and fast and fun, but all of the riffs and solos could be picked out by an intermediate player. At this stage, Teppei was early on in his electric guitar days (as he hadn't played anything but classical guitar until he started playing in Thrice) and it shows. The playing on all the instruments is sloppy in general, but in the more technically demanding moments, it is incredibly evident on the lead guitar. For example, on the introduction of "Opaque" there are notes that audibly aren't attacked well, and on the "T&C" solo there are tons of off attacks on the guitar unison, showing a slight lack of tightness between Dustin and Teppei that reaches maturation later in the band's career. However, these little technical flaw are trumped by the fact that the leads are awesome and sound great, even with their little imperfections. The technical issue is present in the other instruments as well but in a different way. An interesting instrument to look at is the drums. On later albums, the drumming focuses on unique accenting and odder time signatures, whereas on this album is all about playing fast and hard. Sure both techniques are difficult to play and physically demanding, but most people are going to agree that the accents and time signatures are most tasteful or intriguing than the speed of a punk beat. So, here we have a youthful understanding of what it means to write crazy drums. They are fast, and of course incredibly enjoyable, however there is a lack of depth to the playing that will be apparent to anybody who has listened to "Paper Tigers" or "For Miles."
A second main concern is the songwriting. As Thrice moved into later albums, they focused on breaking away from the punk paradigm of having power chords mixed with an octave melodic line. Now, on Vheissu
Thrice uses a much wider range of instrumentation and doesn't necessarily just use barre chords to get the harmony across. A lot of it is implied or expressed across multiple instruments, which is much more interesting. Here, the chords are expressed simply in keeping with the punk influences. Also, the actual chords used are much simpler. I feel like the chords progressions are often a little repetitious and are usually always in harmonic minor to get that slightly darker feel that usually isn't present in minor key punk and likely comes from their metal influences. Beyond that, as mentioned earlier, the drumming is a little shallow compared to the more recent efforts, though it is not the only instrument guilty of using more shallow compositional techniques. First Impressions
is incredibly catchy, and this is achieved through very traditional songwriting tactics that manifest in all of the instruments. The bass only uses root position harmonizations unless there's a little fill to be had. The vocals, which I think are at least surprisingly precocious in the lead, have really cheesy background harmonizations only one step above having a "whoa-oh" or "na na na" in a pop punk song. The guitar too can be cheesy, but in a more hair metal way. I can imagine Dustin and Teppei leaning back to back with giant hair and tight pants playing the unison solos on "T&C" and the intro of "Freedom." It's good as a catchy gimmick, but beyond that, it really cloys. There are a lot of cheap songwriting tricks to make the songs catchy, which is a lot less insightful and original than Thrice's newer ways of trapping a listeners attention.
However, as much as I've been ripping on the album, I'm ignoring one crucial element; this album is in fact catchy, and is really fun and awesome. These 7 songs could hold their own against most other skate punk or melodic hardcore I've heard. It's energetic, youthful, melodic, and technically beyond most of songs of the same ilk. It's not as brilliant as Thrice's newer material, duh, but viewed outside of the giant shadow Thrice has cast with their last 4 LPs, it's still a good album. The band might say otherwise because they are notoriously embarassed by this EP, but I think there's a lot of good here for all of the clich�d or hackneyed moments. It was not meant to be listened to as "high art" or anything like that. It's just a first stab at writing compelling, technical music, which is what Thrice has been excelling at for the past 7 or 8 years. Rarely can bands begin with a perfect jump start, and this rough hewn EP provides a lovable, fun introduction to Thrice's career.