The first-ever metal band at the Tiny Desk is a little bit of a head fake. Make no mistake, Thou makes some of the heaviest, most tortuous music around; but the band also constantly experiments with beautifully ornate arrangements that balance its most extreme measures. In a set culled from the acoustic-driven Inconsolable — one of six full-lengths, EPs and splits the band released last year (no, really) — Thou shows us just how crushing quiet can be.
"This is the softest I've ever played," guitarist KC Stafford told me during sound check. Yes, their downtuned guitars are turned down low at the NPR Music office, but the weight is still ever-present. Stafford takes the lead on "The Hammer" as co-vocalists Emily McWilliams and Melissa Guion (who also makes ambient-pop music under the name MJ Guider) sing, "Bring down the hammer / A bludgeon to my shrines / Bring down the hammer / To the corpse of my worship." These are the cryptic lyrics and melodies largely written by Bryan Funck, who normally screams his existential despair for Thou. But for these songs and this Tiny Desk, he lurked in the audience.
Thou's decade-plus discography is an exercise in exploration and refinement, finding new textures in heft, which is why this set offers such a slow-burning thrill to its oeuvre. Case in point: the closing cut, "The Unspeakable Oath," lead by guitarist Matthew Thudium, is a twinkling grunge song that overlaps guitar melodies with the grace and grandiosity of a whale.
Matthew Thudium: guitar, vocals; Andy Gibbs: guitar; Mitch Wells: bass; KC Stafford: guitar, vocals; Tyler Coburn: drums; Emily McWilliams: vocals; Melissa Guion: vocals
Producers: Lars Gotrich, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Kimani Oletu, CJ Riculan, Kara Frame; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Production Assistant: Adelaide Sandstrom; Photo: Amr Alfiky/NPR
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