Thee More Shallows
Book of Bad Breaks
he San Francisco-based Anticon Records, the new home for local group Thee More Shallows, has diversified its holdings over the last couple years, transforming itself from a predominantly hip-hop label by supporting a number of rock and electronic music releases. The recent onslaught of Flaming Lips-ish psych-pop like the recently-reviewed Bracken (whose current release, Eno About the Need, is making its way around the world, in a move inspired by Music for Supermarkets, as only one physical copy) has been pushed heavily by the label.
Continuing this trend, the label recently signed SF natives Thee More Shallows in a move that substantially increases the band’s profile and solidifies Anticon’s stylistic peripeteia. A noisier and catchier effort than 2005’s subdued and disturbing More Deep Cuts, Bad Breaks instead directly affronts the listener with a calculated assault of melodies and feedback. It’s a loud and cacophonous affair—where previous efforts doled out their noise in judicious restraint, Breaks responds to their need to unhinge their fractured pop. To use a terrible sports analogy: after playing a couple of innings of the intentional small-ball of post-rock, Thee More Shallows has decided it needs to swing for the fence.
You could take the optimist’s view and claim that the band has decided to explore “sonic space” with a louder, lusher groove, or the pessimist’s and accuse them of “selling out.” It’s perhaps easier to settle into the latter, citing the group’s adherence to the post-Arcade Fire ethos of bullying the listener into fandom. Indeed, a complex network of guitar or synth riffs and vocal melodies constantly threatens to sweep the listener into an embarrassment of indie-pop riches. There’s a hook in “Knight at the Knight School.” Wait, there’s another one. And another. Wait, THIS is the chorus? What the hell part are we supposed to whistle in the bathroom?!
Even in the face of what could have been a giant sellout, Shallows shakes up the surroundings every now and then with bizarre interludes. The first, “Int 1,” starts with a string quartet virtually plucked from the Funeral cutting-room floor. After a few seconds, however, we’re greeted with some serious “I Am Sitting In A Room”-type feedback processing, basically driving it into the wall. The production here—and elsewhere on the album—is impeccable. Oftentimes, you’ll hear bits of guitar travel in and out of the soundscape and dissimilar riffs merge in the middle to create a wholly different sound experience. Every track flows together in the same fashion, the transitions almost growing into each other.
But by moving labels and writing pop songs, Thee More Shallows forces us to judge them on the level of the pros. It’s too bad. They can’t compete with Bono or Win Butler—they lack that asshole quality that drags the gravity of a listening universe towards them; what’s pop on Bad Breaks is certainly intentional, but unfortunately misappropriated. As an album, Book of Bad Breaks succeeds admirably, a concise (36 minute) treatise on the anthemic new wave/post-punk movement with a generally inspired buzzy production. As a collection of catchy pop songs? Let’s just say they struck out swinging.