#7 – NOW, NOW – THREADS [spotify]

(feat. track – Thread [spotify])

I’ve probably written more about Tancred, the side project of Now, Now guitarist Jess Abbott, that I have about any other act in the last few years, and yet I believe this is the first time I’ve addressed her main concern. Perhaps that’s because, prior to Threads, I was never quite sold on Now, Now as a band; the miniscule Minnesotans traded primarily in a sound as diminutive and unassuming as their appearance, always pleasant but rarely (to my ear, at least) gripping. With Threads, they’ve got my full attention.

By my memory, I’ve seen Now, Now five times since the release of Threads this past March (the true number might actually be higher), and it really took seeing the material played live a couple of times for it to blossom for me. Partly, that’s due to the amped-up energy of the live performance. Drummer Bradley Hale, in particular, has been a revelation; his use of syncopation and his creative, off-kilter patterns play perfectly off his precision timing, and he’s a sight to behold when he’s locked in.

But beyond the band’s musicianship, hearing the music in the live context brought out for me hooks that hadn’t really sunk in while casually listening to the record. Though I’ve enjoyed it from the first play, I don’t think I’d have described Threads as “catchy” six months ago. Now, I regularly find snippets of “Oh. Hi.” and “Dead Oaks” and “Thread” and “Wolf” emerging from my subcortex at odd moments. That’s part of what makes it such a great album: it works on two levels effectively. Threads feels, at first, like it’s designed for background listening – 42 minutes of enveloping mood music that operates impressionistically, much like shoegaze or post-rock – but it rewards close listening as well with a series of what are, at their core, marvelously catchy pop songs.

That it operates on dual levels is no coincidence. Threads isn’t exactly a concept album, but it’s full of motifs, both musical and lyrical. Certain phrases and snippets of melody pop up repeatedly, taking on new meaning as the context around them changes; foreshadowing becomes action becomes denouement. The name Threads itself is a reference to these ties; they weave their way through tracks with titles like “The Pull” and “Thread” and “Magnet” until the album is bound tightly together, just as they weave their way through the lives of the characters within, drawn toward each other by forces they can hardly fathom: lust, suspicion, jealousy, even enmity. The end result of all of this is something like a photomosaic, an image in macro, rendered from even-more-compelling snapshots in micro.

But if Threads is like a photomosaic, it’s also a like a Rubin vase; an album about love that arrives at its topic by addressing everything but. Now, Now color in all the emotions that surround love until its image emerges in the negative space which remains. That technique is even reflected in the cover art: up close, a detailed topography in near-black and white, dominated by bright sky so that the landscape only seems to exist as absence-of-light; from a step further back, a picture of daytime that appears, from distance, as a moon.

With its ever-present duality, the multi-layered Threads teases (and pleases) brain, ears, heart and gut in equal measure, and often all at once. That’s quite an accomplishment, but then, Threads is as accomplished an album as any released this past year. It’s a listen as rewardingly revelatory as it is enjoyable. Call it a big step forward for three small people.