Thieves And Villains – [Album]

Monday, 02 August 2010

Remember when things in and about punk rock were simple? The last time it was possible to say that was around 1996, and that was a wonderful time. That was a time when all things punk were simple to define and easy to qualify – either a band was punk (like Rancid), hardcore (hard and fast like Bad Religion or Agnostic Front), melodic hardcore (the bridge between 'punk' and 'hardcore' represented by bands like NoFX and The Descendents), or pop-punk (which included Green Day, Blink 182 and others of their heart-on-their-sleeves ilk). In the latter case, song subject matter was pretty cut-and-dry too; songs about girls were everywhere, there were some about pranking, jacking off and (awkwardly) growing up. Simple – right? Only a few years later, and things got a whole lot more complicated as every band and every group that splintered off of them got their own sub-genre (the most recent joke has been “pop-mosh,” but there's also the far more “serious” and prog-sounding things that Angels & Airwaves is doing, and the punk/hip-hop/electronica hybrid that The Transplants have created), thereby essentially denigrating the value of punk credibility to roughly the same level as the Reichsmark. That questionable point has been where punk rock has remained ever since; passably newish sounds come on the market with a flashy generic title, and they last for a few minutes before collapsing. From that process comes the irony that lies in Thieves And Villains' debut, South America: in order to stand out and rebel against conventional practices, they've stripped all the window dressing away from punk as it has become adorned and just play it straight.

Right off the bat, after a modest piano introduction, Thieves And Villains fall into a fantastic tradition that favors love and heart-wrenching minor chords over cynicism and irony as singer Sergio Otaegoi does nothing to grab a listener's attention other than bare his soul on “16 Hits” (don't lines like “I think I'm in it, I know I'm/there enough/ to test your sins/I'll taste your grief/I'll let you in” say it all?) and lets his bandmates hold him up instead of letting his own sentiments crush him. There are more than a few sets of ears that will heave a heavy sigh of relief as the guitars build for a cathartic climax and recede; they haven't heard something so plainly put or forthright and honest in what feels like years and, when it comes out as it does here, it just feels like a serene moment that could last forever and, if it did, listeners would be just fine with that.

That first moment doesn't last long but, happily, there are many more just like it in the dozen tracks that follow “16 Hits.”

The funny thing about South America is that the great moments on it seem so effortless; there is not jaw-dropping “wow factor” to songs like “Virginia Woolf,” “I Want A Friend Like You,” “Island Waterfall Blues” or “The Ascetic Life Is The Life For Me” other than the fact that Thieves And Villains manage to tap into an instantly relatable sound and sentiment for each and evenly balances the 'pop' and 'punk' sides of the band's delivery. Each time, the songs are kept simple and frill-free which means there are no distractions from the work that has obviously gone into songwriting, That is a significant boon here, because it allows the band to properly introduce themselves and what they're about without jarring listeners with something novel to make a point and illustrate the difference.

As the record progresses, Thieves And Villains hold steady and never falters from South America's vision, but does show a bit of depth in the end when most of the band knocks off early and leaves Otaegai to close up shop alone on “South Street Hymnal.” With just an acoustic guitar and wistful vocal, the singer leaves the end of the record open just a hair which means the band will be able to pick up just where it left off on future releases if they choose, but the record is also solid enough that it doesn't feel unfinished. The interesting thing about that is that it leaves the band with options when they return; they can run off the map or come back to this familiar ground, and listeners will be interested either way because the band did such a good job the first time. It'll be interesting to see what they choose.



South America comes out August 3, 2010 on Victory Records. Pre-Order it here on Amazon .

Comments are closed.