For such a small-potatoes, culty band, Baltimore’s Thank You gets cred just for weathering the wave of changes they’ve seen since 2008’s frenzied Terrible Two (Thrill Jockey). In two years, the group lost original drummer Elke KW to Germany, initiated new skinsman Emmanuel Nicolaidis over two grueling weeks to prep for dates with Battles, and watched multi-instrumentalist (and de facto frontman) Jeffrey McGrath defect to New York. The trio made its name from their avant-prog telepathy live and on record; KW’s loss, in particular, should have been devastating, as most of Two and 2006’s debut World City (Wildfire Wildfire) rode on her punching bag percussion aesthetic, all jabs, side angles, and unexpected turns. Given the circumstances, one could be forgiven for expecting perfunctory bullshit from Golden Worry – a version of classic non-albums like Polvo’s Shapes screaming, “It’s over!”
Luckily, Thank You picked the right drummer. Nicolaidis, who spent years instrument-hopping in More Dogs’ glorious art-music mess with current bandmate Michael Bouyoucas, skips KW’s earth-shaking tom attack and skews towards good old math rock. He’s an absurd find, a replacement for the irreplaceable, and it’s crazy to hear how clean – maybe even better – Thank You sounds in his capable hands.
Aided by producer Chris Coady (whose tidy production seems to be upping numerous games), McGrath and Bouyoucas appear to have arrived at real lucidity, though Worry feels light on the improvised, weirdly florid half-arrangements making previous LPs a maddening triumph of function over form. Where Thank You, circa 2008, might resolve the hell-funk guitar and Dirty Projectors-like pedal noodles threatening to leave “Pathetic Magic” in pieces by burrowing further into each and forcing a union, 2011’s version of the group takes a different tack – they harmonize hauntingly ‘til moods syncretize. “Birth Reunion,” the record’s most stunning piece, dives even further into compositional control, letting a pretty keyboard amble and burst into Fela-via-krautrock ecstasy. As a backbone, Nicolaidis hooks into his beats, allowing bandmates freedom to investigate conventions of harmony, rather than just keeping up.
This new zeal for convention has its drawbacks, of course. For one, KW’s artless burble is missing, meaning the drums, however immaculate, are no longer a focal point or source of a clattering improv drama. In getting their composition-ducks in a row, McGrath and Bouyoucas have begun to stumble into the clever but unmemorable collections of compartmentalized riffs, as heard in ponderous tracks like “Continental Divide.” As much as Nicolaidis carries the band with swagger, his precision removes a certain aspect of the stakes. Like a Wire-baiting version of the Raincoats or Beat Happening, Thank You gained a great deal of steam from KW’s rickety rhythms, each of which demanded dogged parsing from her cohorts.
Still, Thank You’s newest iteration makes a convincing case over Golden Worry’s six tracks, mostly through sheer indefatigable confidence. Wounded as the band may be, there’s not a hint of listless train wreckage to be had here and just enough progress to suggest Thank You have positively thrived in circumstances obliterating lesser bands. By those lights, Thank You managing a record as alive as Golden Worry feels momentous.Visit: Thank You | Thrill Jockey Records
Purchase: Insound | eMusic