reviewed by Chris Matei
Vancouver’s Thee Ahs call themselves “black bubblegum pop” – and, much like my favourite imported Japanese candy, Black Black chewing gum, their latest LP, Names, is refreshing, sharp, and boasts a hell of a caffeinated kick.
Names is so named for individuals the band’s members collectively “dated, wished they’d dated, or wished they’d never met.” It’s an album full of chiming, jangling guitars and lo-fi drums that lift songs up as often as they give them punch, twee girl-group-pop-meets-nineties-shoegaze – somewhat similar to the vibe exuded so masterfully earlier this year by Alvvays’ self-titled and Polaris-nominated disc. However, unlike those Torontonians, whose sonic signature could be visualized in the scratchy, washed-out tonal warmth of a cherished 8mm home video, Thee Ahs favour a high-contrast. full-colour approach to songwriting. Their cotton-spun vocals reveal longing, vivacity and anger in equal measure, reaching peaks of distortion-thick angst and tension – as “John” demonstrates early on, exhorting the titular companion to “get in or get out.”
There’s a Morrissey-like plaintiveness and honesty in songs like “Andrew,” never mind the presence of guitars straight from the book of Marr with a dash of modern indie rock width and shimmer. “Alexandra” could be pure My Boyfriend’s Back (hey la, hey la) but it branches out in the choruses and bridge into something more melodically complex and beautifully cathartic. “Ridley” funnels a diary’s worth of observations and feelings into a single, poignant observation set on a teetering upward scale: “I have named chords after you” – and lets the emotional zenith crash back down in a proggy outro.
Thee Ahs’ previous LP, Corey’s Coathangers, had a punkier angularity, like Tina Belcher balancing tenderhearted awkwardness with the power to be a strong, sensual woman daydreaming vividly about butts – or in this case, to proclaim “I hope you’re happy with your new boyfriend – does he know blue balls is all he gets? Whatever! Fuck her!” (as on “I’m Not Angry Anymore.”) Names channels these sorts of scraped elbows and complicated feelings into a sleeker package, defined by its deft manipulation of quiet melodies and gain-drenched dynamics as much as it is by the emotional resonance of its songwriting. That’s not to say Thee Ahs aren’t still capable of slinging a sick burn or two – “Davie” matches the lyric “I think it would be fine if I never saw you in the flesh again” with one of the sunniest, singsongiest choruses I’ve heard in recent memory.
We’ve all felt these kinds of emotions. Yawning distances that test our hearts’ resolve. The sting of betrayal. Bubbly, giddy squirming of endorphins, stomach butterflies, the desire to hurl bricks through sons-of-bitches’ windows and ride away laughing into the night. Names is the kind of record that makes us forget that people talk of a crisis in Vancouver personified by cold, distant people clutching iPhones, afraid to interact. It’s earnest without affectation, and rocks out without apology.
Top Tracks: “Davie,” “Andrew, ” “John”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)