Thrushes: Night Falls
Over a skittish back beat, a sulking bassline, and a ghost of guitar squelch, Thrushes' guitarist/vocalist Anna Connor sounds like she's thinking her way through another sleepless night. "It's hard to know what loving is," she sighs over this skeletal melody, "when you've never been knocked off of your feet." She soon arrives upon an answer to this dilemma, presumably aimed at some recently ended romance: "I think someone should break your heart/ so that you know how much to give."
Thrushes arrived like an old college crush in 2006 with Sun Come Undone, which might as well have been a Psychocandy tribute album with its shimmering waves of noise pillowing winsome female vocals about desire--or something. Where Undone was coy about relationships, though, Falls is vehemently unambiguous: They're awful and painful and end badly and often in tears--and they're as necessary as air to feel alive.
In other words, Falls isn't so much a breakup album as a love/hate album. The melodies are more sprightly and the instrumentation more sparse, while the lyrics are more knife-edged, deliberate, and searching. It's a Darklands where every song is thematic variation on "Nine Million Rainy Days." Somebody done somebody wrong here, and nobody knows how to be right.
Which is to say it's a pretty great downer. Were it 1992, Connor would probably have a small army of thrift-store-clad boys following the band around--and the line would probably start right here--hanging on her every breathy disappointment: "We don't have as much to lose as you think" ("As Much to Lose"), "Could you hurt me more each day/ love me less in every way" ("Crystals"); "Did you notice/ I'm not feeling like myself" ("Night Falls"), "You're not what I thought" ("Juggernaut"), "I press my hands together/ waiting for a sign/ that everything will get better/ in time" ("Weather Vane").
Nothing quite like a gamine damsel in emotional distress to appeal to lecherous chivalry, but what makes Night Falls more than a mere Slowdive/Galaxie 500 redux is the grating tension between Connor's vocals and the anxious music behind her. The band--Connor, drummer Matthew Davis, bassist Rachel Harvey, and especially guitarist Casey Harvey--sounds like it's doing more with less, clashing together fewer elements with fewer parts to yield an even more potent squall of oomph. Lead track "Trees" jauntily begins in a cascade of ringing guitar notes and jingle-bell shimmy before rushing headlong into its febrile melodic line, a mess of schizophrenic drum fills and cymbal crashes, a hyperventilating bass line, and an overturned flour sack of guitar sustain. It's almost too busy, but these elements conspire into a comforting pocket of pretty anxiety.
Pretty being the operative word: Everything about Night Falls aims for prettiness and gets there. From the upbeat, jaunty kick of "Crystals" to crash-pow stomp of "Juggernaut," everything about Night Falls succeeds in creating a patina of catchy attraction. Everything, that is, save Connor's vocals. It's not that they don't work or that the quality of her voice is unpleasant; it's that how and what she sings obstinately doesn't care about the pretty. Let the music sink its adorable hooks into the ears, Connor is going to overturn the punch bowl. Her delivery and lyrics--which dabble in just enough doubt to avoid abject bitterness--invest Night Falls with an almost irreverent moxie, a seedling of whogivesashitness that should be nurtured and allowed to bloom. The Thrushes of Sun Come Undone sounded overeager to please; the Thrushes of Night Falls sound past the point of caring what you--or he--thinks. And it's the beginnings of a very good look.