Thirlwell’s Fraternal Twins
Around the holidays, you hear a lot about being thankful for a bountiful Christmas. Well, for fans of JG Thirlwell and his different incarnations, consider this Christmas season bountiful. The prolific Thirlwell unleashes both Soak, an album under the Foetus name, as well as The Blue Eyes (his original score for the motion picture of the same name, which was written, directed and produced by Eva Aridjis) under his own name. He has provided two uniquely sprawling listening experiences here. Look no further than the opening tracks on each: “Blue Eyes Opening” lurches ominously with percussive soundscapes and delicately plucked classical guitar while Soak is introduced by the bombastic and world beat extravaganza that is “Red and Black and Gray and White.”
Both are fantastic openers in and of themselves, but also do a great job of setting the course for their respective albums. Soak encompasses eleven songs that are freewheeling, mixed-genre escapes. Each song is given ample time to reveal its unique world, so a song like the charmingly showtune-esque “Kamikaze” can sit alongside the manic and unsettling “Warm Leatherette” without so much as a blink and each can be enjoyed equally in its own context.
The Blue Eyes, on the other hand, is not quite the polar opposite so much as just a different universe unto itself. Whereas no song on Soak dips below the two and a half minute mark, over half of the twenty-two compositions that make up The Blue Eyes don’t make it to the two minute mark. Hence, most of the soundscapes and experiments Thirlwell toys with here come off more like vignettes than they do living, breathing productions. That’s a charm though, as there are some interesting moments to ponder. The cinematic “Urchin” comes to mind, with its beating heart base drum and searing string section, as well as the equally foreboding “Witchmarket” with its emotive and narrative-style string work.
Overall, Soak is the more thrillingly listening experience, as even the longer tracks on The Blue Eyes (“The Shack,” “The Mountain Trail”) don’t quite have the seductive richness that characterizes a track like the showstopping “Cosmetics (A Secret Chiefs Remix)” from Soak, although to that latter point, something special was bound to come out of that collaboration. Soak is the more complete artistic document, whereas The Blue Eyes plays more like the darker and more experimental mode where Thirlwell is trying new things– some with success, while others, not. And though certain tracks on Soak are more over the top entertaining and enthralling than others, all eleven tracks have some considerable intrigue to them.
Christmas may have come slightly early for JG Thirlwell fans, and there is much to celebrate here, but in the end, The Blue Eyes may be more so a preview of something to come later whereas Soak is the readymade audio carnival that is ready to thrill and entrance right into the new year.