Monday, June 17, 2013

Dear Thief Is Dark, Heavy And Heady

There are two ways to take Dear Thief, an impossibly eclectic art rock band out of London. They are either one of the most original bands you've ever heard or a swirling thump and buzz of barely listenable rhythm and noise.

Sometime you might even wonder if they want to be known as the trio channels equal energy into other projects. Vocalist-guitarist Yusuf B’layachi also fronts his new band B’layachi and sometimes plays with Vic Godard (Subway Sect). Drummer Tim Greany is equally busy, lending his sticks to B’layachi as well as other gigs as they come along.

Bassist Emma Bennett is almost better known as an artist. Her latest work, for example, follows the band's recent release, Oh Yeah. She painted the album cover, an exercise in attempting to make ephemerality permanent.

But she does something else too. Rather than approach the work like historic photographer Roger Fenton or contemporary photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, Bennett gravitates to the dark side. Her canvas captures loss, holding onto this last moment, i.e., a rabbit lying still by seasonal flowers, with any beauty just beginning to wilt and decay.

Dear Thief captures several dark and drawn-out moments with Oh Yeah. 

Whether the art inspired the album or the album inspired the art hardly matters; the direction is woven together. The collection of eight tracks explores something darker, heavier and much less accessible than their debut. And yet, Oh Yeah feels more poignant too.

Most of the tracks rely on hard-grooving, rhythmical directness that repeats with regularity and is only broken by an occasional instrumental flair. Another consistency, from one side of the album to the other, are deep rhythms that bury the distant echo of B’layachi's nearly spoken vocals.

B’layachi seems to prefer it that way. Even with his new band, he drops back and otherwise diminishes his vocals. In this case, it almost makes Oh Yeah sound like it was recorded in two different rooms: the band was in the studio and their frontman was in a closest.

Some of this works. Some of it doesn't. But the only reason it doesn't is because B’layachi often forces you to tune out the groove if you want to hear the lyrics. Only when you do can you get that Hotel smacks of angry insomnia, an endless chug and throb before their welcomed transitions.

One of the best tracks on the album is the two-minute tight Big Arse Rabbit. Lee McFadden caught the track live when Godard asked Dear Thief to play a last-minute support set at the St. Aloysius Club in London. The studio track sounds much fuller, but this is one of the few previews put out.

Although heavier, this is the sound that captured some attention a few years ago with Under Archway. What makes this band so interesting is how they oscillate between post punk and impulsive nervous noise. At times, it's almost hard to get a handle on the sound. Sample at least one full track a few times.

Elephant tells a hypnotic tale of how someone lives on the dark side of the street, contrasting his ugly here and now with a hint of where he comes from. Move picks up the pace, conveying a desire to get somewhere despite being trapped in place. And Ground Swell carries a haunting resignation backed by more heavy and melodic riffs. After Big Arse Rabbit, any of those are good places to start.

All in all, there is plenty to like about the Dear Thief for anyone who has an open ear and wants to listen to some loud and insistent arrangements with unapologetic lyrics. It's all about snapshots and ruts, especially those ugly enough that they aren't meant to be permanent.

Oh Yeah By Dear Thief Bangs Out 6.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Interestingly enough, the band recorded the album with two different approaches this time out with John Hannon. Some tracks were well crafted before being laid down. Others where improvised in the studio. The effect is both memorable and ephemeral as intended, even if the album seems likely to slip by unnoticed. Maybe that is all the more reason to preserve it.

You can pick up the heavily idiosyncratic album Oh Yeah by Dear Thief on Amazon. You can also find Oh Yeah on iTunes. Follow the band on Facebook if you want to catch them live. While the band won't be for everyone, Dear Thief makes for some great original art.
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