reviewed by Michael Thomas
There’s a duality to AMC Gremlin, the solo act of Andrew M Collins (get it?) of the Skeletones Four. Besides the act name, which is shared with a car produced in the 70s, there are two sides to the music, too. Northern Thirst is an interplay of the relaxed and the terrifying.
Though there are two sides to Collins’ music, that isn’t to say that one is more complex than the other. On songs like “In A Cloud,” there’s a dynamic interplay of guitar, keys bass and drums, but they’re harmonious enough to create a relaxed melody for the majority of the song. On the other hand, there’s songs like “Presto Change-O,” which is a sustained note that gets louder and louder until it becomes unbearable halfway through the song—only to abruptly take a left turn into something more controlled, but no less terrifying.
That’s the fun of Northern Thirst. You’ll never know if you’re about to deal with one side or the other. “Blacktop Drifter,” which leads the album off, is more geared toward the dark side. An eerie, whirring synth pairs with a few piano notes before moving into the main melody. It’s the kind of dark, moody atmosphere that would perfectly suit vocals by Lisa Conway, and she does actually appear on vocals in the much calmer “House Cats.”
Speaking of which, that song could more or less be a theme song for felines. The sunny, shimmering guitar picking conveys the I-don’t’give-a-shit-what-you-think mentality of cats. Then there’s the title track, which calmly and powerfully sums up the experience of being out in the countryside of Canada. It begins with Collins singing “We’ve been waking on the dark side of the day/Where the grass is just as green as the skies are grey.” Having spent a significant amount of time in Bruce County, Ontario (not far from Grey County, where Collins and Conway’s Wildlife Sanctuary Sound is), I can relate.
When Collins moves to the dark side of his music though, prepare for something scary. The instrumental “SH Noise” is a jumble of creepy electronic sounds, moving at such a fast pace that you won’t have time to get oriented. “Thirsty Sailor” begins in a psych-pop way but ends in a very long guitar jam. The aforementioned “Presto Change-o” is wonderfully jarring.
Canada’s north is full of duality too. It’s a nice place to go, but as an escape, you can only stay so long before the isolation gets to be too much. Perhaps Northern Thirst is the musical soundtrack to our landscape.
Top Tracks: “House Cats”; “Northern Thirst”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)