To paraphrase music critic Lindsay Zoladz, in a well-crafted record, what's going on in the margins of the songs is often just as important and expressive as the center. Once in a while you’ll hear a band that manages to bring this enveloping flavor into their work without sacrificing subtlety. Enter local experimental pop quartet Thin Hymns, with their sophomore EP Black Water, a stunning four-song suckerpunch with sonic textures so vivid they almost leave a metallic aftertaste. Although their influences span from the neoclassical leanings of the later Beach Boys to the unbridled electronic arrangements of Grizzly Bear, there is a darkness heavier in Thin Hymns than in any of what created them.
Each track has its own character. The album opens with “All Around,” unveiling a panic-stricken narrator spouting a melody with a distinctly weightless quality. The aloofness of lead singer Michael Hilger’s voice contrasts with the sense of urgency in the lyrics “don’t you ever stop…feels like we’re running out of time.”
The second track, and the standout on the album, “Lady Mountain,” somehow manages to blend the vocal inflections of Daniel Rossen and the melodic sensibilities of Ezra Koenig (after a brief psychotic episode). The lyrics are cautiously inquisitive, always tinged with a sense of neurosis, “will you side with me when we can’t defend ourselves? ...sing to me that you’ll never leave.” The song takes on a pleasingly unique structure, with a bridge that plays out like the development section of a symphony, and a sweeping, glorious return back to the second verse. These cats clearly have no problem taking the listener from point A to point B in a song without any turning back. The last refrain (one of many) chants the mantra, “break the spell that is on you,” with a implosion into ambience that is reminiscent of Radiohead’s “Let Down.” The ambient back drop then carries us into an instrumental break of synth tremolos and general digital anarchy called “Popular Mechanics.”
That brief lull in space on the album is made much more palpable when we are punched in the gut with the EP closer, "Black Water," a song aptly named given the kinds of environment it evokes. There’s a sleekness and smoothness about the way the tune folds out in front of us, but it rides above a contrastingly jarring bass line and dark lyrical narrative, “I can’t stop trembling, in fear of sickening.” The refrain, “under black water," during the last minute and a half goes down as one of my favorite musical moments of the year.
The last moment of the record is the most cathartic, as often it should be, and I think reaches the precipice where Thin Hymns’ catchy, airy pop melodic chops meet their more ambitious cinematic inclinations. One gets the feeling that they were writing the score to a series of neo-noir short films, rather than an EP. Either way, the climax leaves the listener wanting to take the story further, which is exactly what an EP like this should do. Let’s hope that story does continue, and very soon. Chicago needs more bands like this.
Buy their EP here: https://thinhymns.bandcamp.com