Alabama has a new claim to fame
by Alex Gabriel | Pulse ReporterThe state of Alabama has always been known for its smoked dry-rub ribs, Graceland, and its rich history of deep soul music. Oh, no wait, that's Memphis, Tenn. Well it's world renowned for being the birth place of jazz and the Cajun style of cooking. Dammit, that's New Orleans. What about Disney World and the Everglades? No? So what the hell is Alabama known for anyway? Southeastern Conference football and… uh… rampant poverty? Now you can add "garage rock powerhouse" to that list because Huntsville, Ala.'s own Thomas Function has risen from the mire of Deep South obscurity to unleash hit after hit of pure rock and roll on its first full-length album, "Celebration."
"Celebration" sounds as though it was doused in bleach, rinsed in hot water, buffed and shined - it's clean as can be. The guitars are pure and fat, heating up the songs with the warmth and precision of sizzling humbuckers running through cool vintage tube amps. The cymbal-crashes and snare-hits are as sharp and clear as diamonds and that old Hammond organ lays the foundation for its glowing wall of sound. Lead vocalist Josh's voice is, at times, bizarrely androgynous, yet his vocal affectations and melodies are subtly endearing and often provide the hook, line and sinker that makes "Celebration" so infinitely re-listenable. Think Pete Shelley, or maybe Jello Biafra without his head shoved up his ass.
Thomas Function doesn't necessarily contribute anything entirely unique with its music; it doesn't feature any gimmickry and all of its rock and roll reference points are fairly obvious, yet it sounds fresh and wholly original. This is a testament to near-flawless songwriting and the strong and distinct character of Josh's voice. It is no small feat to make the familiar sound unique, nor is it easy to cut a 13-track LP made up of songs that could easily be 13 A-sides on 13 singles.
The first track, "Filthy Flowers," fits the opener role perfectly with its straight-ahead three-chord rock-and-roll and country-fried twang. Laden with catchy hooks, jangly guitars, bouncing bass and an ever-present tambourine, the song is played at mid-tempo, but its vigorous liveliness and strong instrumentation make it race through the verses and fly into the chorus. The album's energy doesn't let up until it reaches the reverently bluesy ballad "2012 Blues." The swinging country beat and walking bass accompany, in near juxtaposition, the wailing vocals envisioning the doom of an impending apocalypse that the world seems only to be racing toward.
The album's highlight, and probably the brightest spot in the entire Thomas Function catalogue, is the wildly catchy "Relentless Machines." The drums chug and bomb with snares on every quarter, the alternately picked guitars shoot rapid-fire riffs, and the organ rises above the racket to deliver a holy brightness like that of a church choir. The song gives residence to a collection of the album's most clever lyrics and wordplays including the dirty one-line gem, "I hear the sirens while I try to make her come with my hand".
At only a quarter of the way into 2008, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better guitar-driven record this year. And if you blink now, you'll probably miss Thomas Function signing a high-profile record deal with Matador or Vice followed by a Black Lips-style blowup into fame that inevitably leads to a hipster backlash that will send the group back to the obscurity of the backwater racist wasteland from which it came. Keep your eyes peeled. - Pulse