(Set Records LLC, CD)Every now and then, when you least expect it, certain music has the uncanny ability to slap you silly. It leaves you slack-jawed and groping for understanding, only to evaporate back into the ether without a trace. I had such an experience two weeks ago when a trusted pair of ears suggested I check out local indie-folk duo Thread. Perhaps it was my melancholy mood that day, but rarely had I heard such sweetly sonorous strains emanating from a MySpace player. As I eagerly anticipated the arrival of their self-titled debut, one question persisted: Could they possibly be this good? The answer: a resounding “sort of.”
To expect the album to exude the same mystifying qualities upon repeated — and critical — listens would be unfair. Thread’s brooding eight-song effort, while at times brilliant, displays the hero-worship trappings of many a young songwriter. In this case, said hero is none other than indie-wunderkind-turned-twentysomething-old-soul Conor Oberst (a.k.a. Bright Eyes).
Specifically, Oberst’s folk-rock opus I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning seems to have been a major influence — though nods to the Omaha sourpuss’ previous record, Lifted, are obvious as well.
Despite borrowing heavily in lyrical style, melody and vocal delivery, Thread doesn’t necessarily cop Bright Eyes as much as revere him. Brothers Bill & Zach Jandl wrote and performed every song on the record — save for a few guest appearances — and they clearly bring their own considerable talents to the table.
The pair paints austere lyrical landscapes, possessing an undeniable knack for gripping poetic imagery. “Tiny Cities” and “Lines” are simply engaging.
The St. Michael’s College students also work well as arrangers, employing piano, acoustic and electric guitars, synth strings and sparse vocal harmony to craft elegant and often elegiac compositions. They display a deft understanding of contrast, as evidenced by album opener “Introductions, Expectations.” The song closes with a cacophony of distorted guitar, shattering the tune’s glassy melancholia.
Thread’s primary flaw — and it is by no means fatal — is that they’ve yet to definitively corral their ample abilities and reconcile their affinity for a certain Nebraskan teen idol. Conor Oberst doesn’t own the patent for achingly intimate indie music, guys. And, as a lad, he reminded many a critic of The Cure’s Robert Smith, whom he adored — and who may actually own that particular patent.
See? You come by it honestly.