released October 2002
Joseph Kim - guitar, vocals, bass, drum machine
David Yang - guitar, vocals, acoustic guitar
Peter Yang - bass, vocals, drums
Nam Kim - drums
Lauren Camarata - drums, bass
www.koarecords.com/theselah - info and reviews
Echo From Esoterica
Echo From Esoterica was there when Theselah dropped their last album, No Sleep More Fun. We raved about the band, its dynamic use of the four-track recording method, and were wowed with the album all around. Now the group is back with their latest release, Nice International, and I'm happy to say that it is just as good as No Sleep More Fun and even betters it. It's a transitional album of sorts, but doesn't leave behind all the things that have made Theselah and their music so captivating over the release of their three albums.
For those of you who might need a refresher course, or who are entirely new to the music of Theselah, the band is comprised of guitarists and vocalists Joseph Kim and David Yang, bassist and vocalist Peter Yang, and drummer Nam Kim. As stated earlier, these guys basically work their music out on a four-track machine and let the rock roll as it were. They still get an amazingly great sound from this method and prove to the lo-fi freaks that you don't have to sound like shit to make good music. Does that even make sense? Well, you get my drift.
Theselah have always liked to play with sonic textures and noise when creating their music. Nice International breaks away from this formula somewhat by exploring some of the quieter elements that cropped up on No Sleep More Fun and expanding their palette. The opening "Middle of Summer" catches onto a sort of relaxed shoegaze sort of groove while guitars drone and buzz and some electronic percussion percolates in the background. What also separates this track from the ones of the past is the vocals. The guys have really started to focus on coming up with some pretty harmonies that are delicately sung as the buzzsaw guitar continues to cut its jagged path.
My favorite song on the album is the perfect "Perfect Unexcelled". I had told Joe that the thing sounded like one of those familiar songs that you swear you've heard before but in fact you haven't. Perhaps it's the melody that sends Theselah down indie-pop lane all smiles. Again, the vocals provide as many hooks as the guitars, with the happy-go-lucky string of ba-ba-bas bouncing the tune along on its bittersweet course.
But the guys haven't turned all soft and cuddly, even though they are represented on their website by pictures of a puppy, a kitty cat, and a sunflower. On "Clever Douglas" they reclaim the throne to oddball tripped-out drone rock with shrieks of ear splitting guitar notes tossed about in the middle of the song. Imagine if the Doors had really been as way out as they always thought they were and didn't have that boneheaded moron Jim Morrison fronting the group and you may have something like this. It's creepy, it's hypnotic. Hell, it's Theselah.
On the opposite side of that spectrum is "O Mellow Syr" that sounds like some long lost California hypno-surf instrumental. Hey, how'd these boys from New York catch the vibe on the opposite coast? The best fucking part of the tune is the coda in which these absolutely gorgeous echoed guitar chords are gently played into the fade out. Again, it sounds like something I've heard elsewhere, but it's all brand new. Lovely.
"Trunk" is the strangest song on the disc featuring some interesting dialogue playing over some spooky music. More jarring guitars, languid basslines and a steady beat make the case for an all-new Velvet Underground. It does remind me of the kinds of tracks Lou Reed used to do like "Kicks" and "All Through The Night" in which he'd have some crazed conversation going on in the background while the band rocked on.
The second half of the album kicks off with the trashy "Red" that sounds like your killer classic garage rock with a decidedly early '90s alt-rock taste to it. I like it. After that comes the long "Smoove" which is a lush, mantra-like recording. This is followed by the drone pop of "Piece of Mind" that seems to incorporate elements of the space rock turned out by Spiritualized as well as those old familiar grooves of My Bloody Valentine.
Best song title on the album goes to "Kill Emo", a whirlwind of a tune that builds up slowly and devastates everything in its wake in one nice, clean swoop. Then comes the closing "Caroline" which drips with a kind of forlorn sexiness that perfectly caps off this highly imaginative group of ten tracks. Theselah have definitely made leaps and bounds between the last album and this. They may be small leaps, but the changes are noticeable and exhilarating.
So do you want Nice International? Of course you do. If I had to pick a band these days and strap them with that old "cutting edge" tag, then Theselah should proudly have that honor. They manage to break a few barriers down each time with their fuzzy logic, hard guitars, pretty melodies, and tasteful minimal beats. So yeah, visit the KOA site and buy, buy, buy. I should also put the plug in here for Lauren Camarata who helped the guys out on drums and bass on a few tracks here. Perhaps she should be a full time member of the band. And perhaps Nice International is just simply one great fucking album.
- Jason Thompson