Thrillage's Thrill Em All opens with steady strumming of a single chord (“So Defeated”). Quite like the stadium-filling “The House that Heaven Built,” Thrillage go on to throw open the floodgates to vocal power, easily earning the Japandroids comparison. [As an aside, people get preoccupied by the origin story, and forget all about the Armageddon.]
But if the lead vocal is the star, the supporting “cast and crew” (techniques, really) spotlight it still further: backing chorus vocals (2:13 of Replay; :50 of Swift Kick to the Teeth), vocal interplay (Rosary's “I started shaking, baby / [What's in the cabinet?] / Hallucinating lately / What's in the cabinet?]”), and instruments cutting out to isolate the vocal (1:38 and 2:08 of All Torn Up; :28 of Letter Know).
So too with lyrical hooks that, given the delivery device, are thrilling indeed: “With a swift kick to the teeth / You'll remember me” (Swift Kick to the Teeth); “You are the residue / What's left of me is you” (What's New What's Next); “Can I see the replay?” (Replay); “We both know it's over” (Letter Know); “Go / Back / To the days just before we met” (Obvious); “These hands / Will never touch your skin again” (All Torn Up).
Behold also the diamonds in the rough (the lyrical gems buried outside the hooks): “Didn't mean to do it” (Replay); “If it were simple / You'd be at my door” (Swift Kick to the Teeth); “I've lost my voice / But these four walls keep making noise” (What's New What's Next); “Sweet home Chicago / No place I'd rather be / North side, first drink's on me” (All Torn Up); “You've been running all your life” ( All Torn Up); “You found [my vein] and you stabbed away” (All Torn Up); “Can it wait till / The morning after? / We can have just sex and laughter” (Obvious).
“Letter Know” finds Thrillage at their best, not only highlighting the vocal with instrumental cut-outs (e.g. :22), but also complementing the narrator's tale by juxtaposing hard synthetic rock (:30) with soft organic material (:36) that cradles the admission, “We both know it's over.” Halfway through the song (at 1:20), a new musical part gets introduced. It mimics the narrator's decision to make a last-ditch attempt at romantic repair. It seems he had another ace in the hole: sit down and write another love song to save the situation. But the fail-safe fails (“But these strings / And this guitar / Were like foreign bodies / In my arms”). Then the music comes crashing down: The standout rhythmic interplay begins at 1:44, and ends with an emotionally raw vocal that rivals those of Foo Fighters and At the Drive-In. (You can also hear a bit of At the Drive-In's “Rolodex Propaganda” lurking in Thrillage's “Swift Kick to the Teeth,” e.g. at 1:14.) Indeed, fans of those bands (not to mention Japandroids) would be well-served by Thrillage.
*** The author of this review, Danny West, plays the samphor for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8