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Make History

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Album Review

For Make History, Thunderbirds Are Now!'s second full-length (and first with Javelins drummer Matt Rickle), the band teamed up with John Schmersal of Enon as their producer. It's a pairing that makes perfect sense, since they've been tourmates and friends with Enon for some time, and TAN!'s sound bares more than a passing resemblance to Enon and especially Schmersal's previous band, Brainiac. Yet Make History isn't exactly the angular guitars and analogue synth frenzy that this collaboration would suggest. Actually, the band goes in a pretty different direction here than either Justamustache, which perfected the sound they'd been working on since 2002, or the sleazy electronic leanings of the Necks EP. The minute and a half of Beach Boys-esque harmonies and sleigh bells that begin the album's lead track, "Panthers in Crime," are the first hint that this isn't a TAN! album as usual, and even when it opens up into shouty rock, it's not nearly as strident and urgent as the band used to be. Softening the corners, fleshing out the melodies, and toning down the shrillness end up working on Make History as often as they don't: as on "Panthers in Crime," this approach gives the single "We Win (Ha Ha)" an accessible, radio-friendly sheen that suits its hookiness, and that goes double for "Sleeping in the Lion's Mouth," an unrepentantly catchy should-be single with bright, herky-jerky guitars, a slippery synth bassline, and an honest-to-goodness singalong melody. In other places, this sound gets a bit repetitive and, strangely, less immediate than the spazzy dance-punk of their past. "Shake Them Awake," "PPL R ANMLS," and "Sound Issues/Smart Ideas" — which sounds a little bit like TAN!'s other former tourmates, Supersystem — are all fine, full of plenty of energy but, unfortunately, not especially memorable. Even with their newly expansive sound, Thunderbirds Are Now!'s keyboards remain their calling card, whether they're sparkly, as on "Open Us Up," or jaunty, like on "Why We War." Keys are also the stars of "S**t Gold," a slow, spooky (but still mischievous) song that is new and promising territory for the band. This is certainly Thunderbirds Are Now!'s most ambitious album, but it's also their most uneven. However, the best songs here suggest they'll continue to expand and experiment with more consistent results in the future.


Formed: 2002 in Detroit, MI

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s

Detroit freak-out artists Thunderbirds Are Now! feature Ryan Allen (vocals, guitar), Scott Allen (keys, vocals, sampler), and Mike Durgan (drums); the bass position seems in flux, but included at various points Marty Smith and Howard Chang. TAN! perfected their nervy, beat- and yelp-addled sound with 2002's Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief LP (Action Driver) and the 2003 EP Another One Hypnotized By..., released through the Flint indie Acutest. Buzz began and stuck with Thunderbirds; soon French Kiss...
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Make History, Thunderbirds Are Now!
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