Place the positive beside the negative and what do you achieve? Balance, exactly: this is something that Detroit's Thunderbirds Are Now! have learned over their three years as a band, and their first release for the Frenchkiss label, Just A Mustache, is the wonderfully sweet and sour result.
The band - just another synth-slapping dance-punk band on paper - know how to properly utilise a huge pop hook as well as they do when to royally freak out, flipping the bird to the convention they embrace so openly elsewhere. So, we have 'Eat This City', with its predictable punk-gets-the-funk structure characterised only by some Koufax-like keyboard squeals, balanced by the preceding 'Better Safe Than Safari', all hyperactive bleatings, choppy guitars and weirdo sci-fi effects bought wholesale from the b-movies. Just when you thought a course had been set - conventional, easily pigeonholed punk rock for nicely frocked disco deviants - Thunderbirds switch things into a hundred shades of odd all over again with the two-or-more-songs-in-one of '198090'. It begins with a throb, speeds hastily into a happy-clapping cacophony and bleeds itself dry 'til the only active ingredients are a dying synth and looped lyrics about stealing "from the future and not from the past". Put it this way: if the song is indicative of pop's future, we want in, today.
Consistency isn't entirely maintained - the slow-paced 'Bodies Adjust' sits unsteadily amongst its frantic peers (although it does briefly explode into a crazed samba session) - but the real highlight, the true demonstration of the aforementioned balancing act being acutely realised, comes in the second-half twins 'To: Skulls' and the following 'From: Skulls'. The former features music rich in hook and clever in lyrical cadence, while the words are absolutely consumed by forthcoming failure and resignation to lead a life of conforming to dictatorial parties: "When you're younger you wish you were old, when you're older you do what you're told". Its 'flipside', though, is the polar opposite, both musically and lyrically. The bass squelches with ridiculous pleasure and guitars are turned up 'til ceiling plaster showers down upon newly upbeat individuals. Lyrically, we're in another territory altogether: "Tomorrow it's gonna pour, if we waste all this precious time" is just one line (well, two really) from a song singing the praises of optimism, of seeking out and achieving goals. Don't compromise, don't get sucked into a kind of conformity you never wanted, don't waste any precious time, or they really will find you "dead on the floor".
A great pop record that's got more in common with Les Savy Fav than any production line pretty boy act, Just A Mustache is a feel-good record worthy of hearty recommendation. Appropriately, it's released as the nights draw in for the long haul - brighten your day a little with their quick-fix melodies and haphazard indie-kid anthems-to-be. Heck, it's only 34 minutes long anyway: what have you got to lose other than that frown?
7Mike Diver's Score