Monday, June 14, 2004
I had a great feature planned for this week, but it was contingent upon me getting my scanner working and that didn't happen. So...
Back in January I mentioned that some day I'd do a feature on the Belgian group Thou, and today's the day. Another good reason to finally profile them: I ordered their 2004 release I Like Girls In Russia a long time ago, and last week it finally showed up, right when I was thinking I was going to have to hop on a plane to Belgium and kick some Thou butt!
(I don't think I've told this story: when their previous CD Elvis Or Betty Boop came out, I emailed the band trying to get a copy as it wasn't being sold by any store I could find, in or out of the US. They wrote back and basically wanted to trade me a copy in exchange for me getting Other Music to carry their CD. Besides the fact that that's kind of obnoxious, they couldn't have known how much I despise Other Music. Ironically, I ended up finding a used copy of the CD at...Other Music when I was there with my wife who wanted to look for something. I've never seen another copy since. There's probably a moral in there somewhere.)
Thou really should be better known, despite their poor customer service track-record. John Parish (see P.J. Harvey) is their pal and occasional producer, they were tight with Portishead, and they've put out some really accessible, forward looking rock and some nice trip-hoppy stuff. Together with Enon (one time label-mates) I thought they were going to spearhead a movement of bands who could do the rock thing and the groove thing, the girl thing and the boy thing. How all of this has failed so miserably, to the point where the only way to get their CDs is to have them delivered by tree sloth from Belgium (or to enter into indentured servitude) is beyond me.
After talking them up so much, I'm afraid that the beginning of the Thou story isn't so thrilling. Their first real release is a "promising" EP called Une Poupee Pour M'Amuser that was a real Belgian waffle to get ahold of. And of course, it wasn't worth the trouble. From it, here's the best track, which is pretty ok: Phony Sirleen. Lately copies have been showing up on gemm.com, so it's not really a difficult find these days.
They followed up with an album called Hello In The Sun, which is more of the same. Hard to find, interesting, promising, but no cigars are being smoked. There are a handful of good tracks on it (it kind of goes downhill after a strong start). From that here's En Route. Late in the album there's a song built around a sample of someone saying they were in Sonic Youth from 1981 to 1985. Bob Bert?
Then, as detailed previously in this blog, the clouds parted and Portishead looked down and blessed Thou with some unused backing tracks, and they got themselves onto a US label that was going to be huge and released an incredible CD called Put Us In Tune that remains one of the best albums ever that you can usually buy used for seventy-five cents or so on half.com or amazon.com. If you don't believe me, look at the reviews on Amazon, most of which have to do with someone buying the album because it was so cheap and then being shocked by how great it is. From that here's Amuse and (on the trip-hop side) Panic Breaks and (more of a combo) Okeh. I thought they were going to be huge!
And as usual, I was wrong. Their label folded and Thou went back to Belgium and self-released Elvis Or Betty Boop. It's a good album, maybe a step down from the previous one, but I still have no idea how to get a copy. May I suggest the Other Music used section? (If you feel like accidentally tripping one of their clerks while you're there, don't let me stop you.) From that, here's Yeah!Yeah!. Here the band starts to integrate its two sides, which has its good and bad points. The album is less schizophrenic, but I think that Thou were good at doing their two different things.
Which brings us to the present. I Like Girls In Russia is yet another good-not-fantastic album. Most of the trip-hop is gone, but the rock has mellowed and developed nicely. I wrote about it briefly here. You can still stream the album from their website and you can order it from this place if you have a month or two to kill. I hate to tell you this, but the CD does sound substantially better than the stream...it was worth the wait, at least for me.
If you go to the website, you'll note that there are all kinds of singles listed in Thou's discography. No tracklistings though, and I just refuse to get started trying to find them after all I've been through. Take that, Thou!
So my recommendation is: if you like any of today's tracks, buy Put Us In Tune (pay no more than $1) as it's great. After that, Elvis Or Betty Boop and I Like Girls In Russia are both good, the latter one probably being slightly better. Only get the first two releases if you're completely hooked and want to hear everything. There are decent songs on each, but not many. On the other hand, the bad stuff isn't terrible...it usually at least has interesting production.