A City by the Light Divided
uch a high premium is placed on “artistic growth” when it’s really nothing more than a bias towards the course one wants the artist to take. Breakthrough albums aren’t always the artist’s best, merely the ones that have a large enough chorus that approves. Sadly, effort is less notable than success, when in fact some of the most successful albums, the most inspired stretches of “growth,” are a result of not just that single record’s effort, but the total output of the artist. Thursday’s history is that of labor and maturation, their trajectory always arching towards something brighter.
Full Collapse was murky, yes, but it also betrayed intense moments of melodic and thematic clarity. The ideas on War All the Time may have been premature, yes, but never insincere, and whatever they lacked in execution of those ideas could always be linked to a failure in performance, not nerve. Thursday have always been a band at work, a tightly knit association of rather loose and dirty ideas. So separate whatever petty animus you have towards their chosen genre from the depth and intensity of their efforts, separate your feelings towards the artist from the art. Do so and you’ll realize why A City by The Light Divided is absolutely brilliant.
Leave it to Dave Fridmann—repeatedly accused of hardening the sound of bands—to make Thursday more dynamic in performance and subtler with their typically fast and broad brushstrokes. The simple fact is that Fridmann didn’t ruin any laudable careers: Low's The Great Destroyer was given a more material presence to its glacial speed and Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods a power to its focus. With Thursday, a group that has pretty much staked its career on intensity and presence, Fridmann sought to burnish their most underused tools. The combination of seemingly topical flourishes on A City leads to a thorough reworking of the band’s sound.
Simple things will pop out first, of course. Geoff Rickly actually sings on most of the tracks rather than his usual guttural barking and broken wailing, the mixing emphasizes individual notes as much as it does full-scale noise assaults, and the band more comfortably and successfully creates tension through sundry ambient effects. But the change is far more immense than these nitpicked morsels: their combination exposes an extravagant tapestry. Where it all comes together is in the last four songs: “Telegraph Avenue Kiss,” “The Lovesong Writer,” “Into the Blinding Light” and “Autumn Leaves Revisited.” All four proceed like dominoes, propelled with more force with each tumble until the concluding piece when Rickly roars with the band, now swollen in marvelous anticipation, “There must be somewhere that cigarettes burn through the night / …the sky is always clear / And the summer never ends / Won’t you take me home?” Here Thursday reach a zenith that, even at their fastest and hardest, always eluded them.
It’s not just that Rickly sings, but that he sings with far more humanity and anguish than any of those prior screams ever afforded the band. It’s not that the album is just mixed differently, but the band members more aggressively seek equal space on the album, meaning that the way the album sounds is easily translated onto the live stage. It’s not that the band is merely using tension, but they’re playing with it, building it up and breaking it down. “Counting 5-4-3-2-1” which, while still allowing for ample elements of their signature sound, comes off as being obviously different and better than their older personality. “At this Velocity” almost fully yields to the type of hysteria typical of their music (and often belittled) with Rickly screaming, “no time left / Just keep moving.” But it’s under three minutes and the most aggressive track on the album, ensuring that its impact isn’t lost through abuse.
I’m not trying to convince you that Thursday is an important band, or that they’re even a good one. I’m not trying to convince you to believe that their genre is more than just screaming fests by poor singers. I’m not even trying to tell you that you to bother with them. No, A City by The Light Divided is a declaration that surpasses these prejudices to strike at a plain conclusion: a group of artists at their peak. Their previous efforts have now paid off, culminating in a condensed treatise of confusion, longing, and maturation. Their latest album, in a nutshell, is a full revelation of the group itself.
Reviewed by: Ayo Jegede
Reviewed on: 2006-06-02