What happens when two Swedes and an American meet at a picnic in Germany? After stinting together as cross-over DJs, they become Thieves Like Us. On March 10, seven years and six cities later, they released their debut album Play Music on Shelflife Records. The unlikely trio—Pontus Berghe (drums), Bjorn Berglund (keyboards), and Andy Grier (vocals)—live in different parts of the world, but they currently call Paris their home, at least for the time being. Their first LP is a reflection of their cosmopolitan past and present, and they’re currently touting the disc all over Europe on tour.
After a cursory glimpse of the album cover and only catching the refrain of ‘Drugs in My Body’, it’s easy to dismiss Thieves Like Us as a group of mind-altering substance-abusing hipsters with a turntable. After a closer listen, Play Music reveals itself to be an epic drunken adventure. All the stages of a liver-bludgeoning bender are there. The concept doesn’t sound like a giant leap for mankind, but the layers of its artistry are revealed with each listen. The aforementioned single plays like an energetic anthem for the scene-ready youth in need of chemical stimulation, but sighs underneath its bubbly façade with confusion and yearning. With cryptic lyrics reading like a stream-of-consciousness poem in ‘Desire’ (“Held up by the numbers, held up by designs / the limits put on us again and again”), the barstool-philosopher phase is revealed. Simpler sounds (keyboard, guitar rifts, steel drum?) become warped in the observer’s quickly wavering mind. The beats slide in and out of focus. Dramatic low points are reached. Cyclic thoughts of longing and hopeless love repeat, despite fruitless attempts to escape them (‘Headlong Into Night’). The whole night wraps up with a faked apathy toward said love, plodding away in a sharp yet dreamy haze (‘Sugar and Song’). The only outlying factor is that this is one mind-twisting binge that you won’t soon forget.
To me, it feels like an austere combination of electronic DJs and post-punkers, who listen to Krautrock on the bus to their bartending jobs. The end result is an interesting, sometimes danceable, sometimes introspective, sometimes a bit too much for me (such as ‘Program for the Second Part’), but always entertaining collection. In the end, the “Pop Band” label (which the band prefers) fits the most. Even with all this, the album is marked by a surprising sparseness that makes you notice everything more without leaving the music empty. Two thumbs up, and my martini glass on the floor.
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