Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Thumbs S/T Ramona Records 1979
The Thumbs were a late 70's, early 80's band from Lawrence, KS. This debut LP stinks of 1979 and lies somewhere between skinny tie new wave and working class Midwestern power pop. It falls closer to the power pop spectrum, as there isn't synth on LP (keyboards got switched to the organ setting), and the only reason to compare it to New Wave is because singer, Steve Wilson, approaches the vocals like a cartoon character.
That's my main problem with the album. Steve Wilson, who is an awesome guy and still a heavy supporter of local music in Lawrence, just draws out his words like Lou Reed, but he can't sing or sound like Lou Reed. On this LP, he's pitchy and all over the place, he's in the higher register and to me, it seriously sounds like a cartoon character. It's distracting and takes away from what's going on with the songs.
As for the songs, production is pretty muted, the drums sound muddy and it can be hard to pick up a bass line. The levels all over sound unven as the guitar is really high and sometimes the organ is too loud. The production is distracting and probably hides a lot of great moments in the LP. I've heard people claim it to be a lost power-pop gem, to which I don't really agree with. It's pretty par for the course. The organ is cool, but overall, it's middle of the road for 1979. To the band's credit, it doesn't appear they were trying for a straight ahead power pop as they are better compared to college rock bands like the dBs or later, REM.
There are some gems, "Is It Too Much?," done correctly could have been classic. "Still Bound to You" has the right idea and even some harmonies (which most the LP lacks). Second to last song, "Rags to Rags" starts promising and I kind of dig the twee-pop break down (likely not meant to sound twee, but again, production isn't the LP's strong point). The final song, "Art History," must be singer Steve Wilson's favorite as it's the sole video on YouTube and posted by him. The organ is pretty killer and there is some Byrds jangle to it.
The band released a follow up in 1982, which I haven't listened to in years but it's on the stack of
to be discussed soon". Steve Wilson (I should really talk about the other guys, but he's kind of the leader of the band) would go onto to front another Lawrence favorite, the Mahoots, and by that point had calmed down his vocal approach considerably.