The Big Thank You
Guardian Angel Roadside Chapel:
Demos & Retakes (self-released)
My copy of Guardian Angel Roadside Chapel came with two curious little pills and a handwritten note instructing me to ingest them half an hour before putting the album on. I appreciated the offer, but I don't do drugs—and I sure as hell don't pop pills that come out of a vending-machine-style plastic capsule. However, I've found that The Big Thank You's sophomore release, though flawed, is solid without the aid of medication.
A little-known local trio, The Big Thank You follow roughly the same path on Guardian Angel as they did on last year's excellent debut, Audio Sapien Medicine Show. That is to say, there is no path—using electronics with modified circuits, fuzzed-out guitars and world-beat drum-machine rhythms, their lo-fi sound owes as much to Indian raga as Tom Waits.
Still, Guardian Angel has a much grittier vibe than Medicine Show, partly due to added instrumentation. As Tomas Hicks lays down bass lines, Hicks, bandleader Jesse Fox and multi-instrumentalist Shaun Watkins trade off on vocal duties. For music that was designed as a soundtrack for tripping balls, their plainspoken voices offer welcome emotional heft.
Not every song on Guardian Angel is a success. “Our Lady” opens promisingly, with a cloud of cosmic bleeps and blurps that would put an LSD-addled listener in a pleasant reverie, but the trio trips over itself in the awkward groove that follows. “Vaqueros” manages to cross upbeat ska with windswept Ennio Morricone, but it suffers from some aimless guitar noodling.
But at their best moments, The Big Thank You can be breathtaking. The spaced-out, unremittingly dark electro-blues ballad “Jewel Box”—which features Fox dueling with The Heavy Guilt's Alfred Howard on squealing, circuit-bent radios—is perhaps the band's best track yet. With Hicks singing about transients, tweakers and barflies, the track sounds like something out of an early Jim Jarmusch film.
Only adventurous listeners would dig something as weird as Guardian Angels, but I didn't miss out by not taking those two little pills. It would've been a nutty trip, either way.