Thought Industry

Songs For Insects

Thought Industry - Songs For Insects ©1992 Metal Blade
1. Third Eye
2. Songs For Insects
3. Cornerstone
4. Daughter Mobius
5. Alexander Vs. The Puzzle
6. Ballerina
7. The Chalice Vermillion
8. The Flesh Is Weak
9. Blistered Text And Bleeding Pens
10. Bearing An Hourglass

In their early years, Thought Industry were housed in that very same bastion of oddball metal bands that included the likes of Anacrusis and Voivod. However, Thought Industry's earliest material was also marked with a certain sense of ostentation and pretentiousness. Through careful reading of the liner notes, you will discover that fourteen instruments were used on this recording and each is used to the very culminating point of overt technicality. This presents a rather interesting musical dilemma: while the music itself is indeed a very interesting concoction of thrash, folk, prog and even funk (reminding one of a certain Mr. Bungle, at least in the days of their brilliant self-titled debut), all the listener can discern from the music is a certain sense of isolation. It's almost as if the musicians themselves recorded this album for the sheer sake of annoying the hell out of the listener, leaving him or her perplexed, perturbed, and confused.

However, is overt technicality reason enough to write an album off as a coaster? Of course not, as there are some truly amazing and interesting moments pervading this album. Brent Oberlin's utterly amazing bass playing (both fretted and fretless and he also played a chapman stick like it's no one's business) is used more for counter melodies and awe-inspiring funk runs than mere rhythm keeping. The guitar interplay of Christopher Lee (no, not the actor who has played a vampire more times than you can shake a stick at) and Paul Enzio (consisting of both six and seven-stringed, fretted, fretless, and six and twelve-string acoustic guitars) provides more notes and riffs in a single song than the listener is willing to put up with (adding to the ostentation factor). Perhaps the only real fault one can have with the playing is Brent Oberlin's often-offkey and untrained vocal performance, which provides more cringe-inducing moments than I am willing to sit through.

For what amounts to a debut, this is quite a strong and interesting album, despite its over-indulgence. This album served as a necessary stepping stone for the band, which would slowly streamline their sound over time and eventually become one of the greatest bands in music, hands down.

Review by Alec A. Head

Review date: 12/2001

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Mods Carve The Pig

Thought Industry - Mods Carve The Pig ©1993 Metal Blade
1. Horsepowered
2. Daterape Cookbook
3. Gelatin
4. Jane Whitfield Is Dead
5. Boil
6. Michigan Jesus
7. Smirk The Godblender
8. Republicans In Love
9. Worms Listen
10. Patiently Waiting For Summer
11. To Build A Better Bulldozer

I suppose that right when Brent Oberlin starts to shriek uncontrollably in the insidiously intense "Horsepowered", you know that you are in for a wild, insane ride. Thankfully trimming down on the more excessive overtones from Songs for Insects, Mods Carve the Pig takes progressive metal and gives it a healthy dose of amphetamines and an almost hardcore punk urgency. The music is still, however, played with a bevy of instruments. Whether Brent Oberlin is going insane on his fretless and fretted basses, keyboards, harmonica, and vocals, or Christopher Lee and Paul Enzio on their vast assortment of different guitars and such, the technical and dauntless metal fan will have plenty to chew on. Another fortunate aspect of this album is the fact that Brent Oberlin's vocals and lyrics have progressed greatly since Songs for Insects. Ridding himself of the severely off-key, melodramatic clean singing, Oberlin provides harsh screaming and a penchant for bizarre and inventive melodies. Gone are the fantasy overtones and pseudo-poetic lyrical stanzas and in came left-wing politics ("Gelatin"), brilliant stream of consciousness banter (all tracks), and agnosticism ("Michigan Jesus"). Mods Carve the Pig was truly the first in an entire series of amazing albums by this Kalamazoo act.

Review by Alec A. Head

Review date: 01/2002

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Black Umbrella

Thought Industry - Black Umbrella ©1997 Metal Blade
1. My Famous Mistake
2. Blue
3. Tragic Juliet
4. World
5. Bitter
6. Consistently Yours, Pluto
7. December 10th
8. Edward Smith
9. Her Rusty Nail
10. Pink Dumbo
11. Swank
12. Earwig
13. 24 Hrs. Ago I Could Breathe/Dec. 11th

Having dealt the world three full-length albums of visionary progressive metal relayed with a cornucopia of instruments, it is a stunning development that Black Umbrella pares Thought Industry's means to a mere four instruments: drums, bass, lead guitar and rhythm guitar. This rather superficial observation would be just that - superficial - were it not emblematic of the musical directives Thought Industry appear to be undertaking. Namely, verse-chorus-verse songs in standard time with hooks and bitterness for miles.

This puts me in the awkward position of comparing Black Umbrella to "alternative rock". Though Thought Industry would no doubt cringe at such trite categorization, fact is they've fashioned a modern rock sound not unlike the very best of the alternative lot: plush vocal melodies put to memorable and catchy but accomplished songs, in a class of excellency of Weezer, Stone Temple Pilots and R.E.M. Further, I would posit that any thirteen of these tracks, given the circumstances, has "popular hit" potential. However, before I get carried away, Brent Oberlin - while clearly a great pop songwriter - is incredibly surly, and in the great tradition of Thought Industry's back catalogue, is unafraid to pepper his songs with fractured rhythms and some very metal augmentation. "Swank" summons early Thought Industry, the meat of the song jerking and thrashing about while Oberlin employs a braying, vindictive vocal affectation; "Earwig" is characterized by quiet acoustics occasionally interrupted by loud guitar blasts and a roaring chorus about breaking stuff. And thankfully, Oberlin has a dynamic voice, capable of pulling off mawkish (but in a good way). Like every Thought Industry album the lyrics are a trip in themselves. In fact Oberlin, who writes strange, funny, witty and deeply astute commentaries and stories, is one of the most interesting and intelligent lyricists I've encountered. Unfortunately, he has abandoned the madman-creativity of alien abductions, hick superstitions, and gun-loving, paranoid republicans for an album composed entirely of "guy scorned by girl so guy goes to girl's house to break stuff" type stories. Of course, he's not totally serious, and it's all a gas; after all, how truly pissed can one be writing about old men in golf slacks, green plastic shoes and falling asleep drunk in a nativity scene with your boots on Joseph's back?

It seems likely that Thought Industry will continue to expand their audiences, especially if they part ways with Metal Blade, who are probably as puzzled by Thought Industry as most metalheads are. Indeed given the airy, sparse, Steve Albini-type production, I see no reason why this can't appeal to the indie crowds either. Black Umbrella is edgy and dark and a great example of artful pop-rock songwriting.

Review by Lee Steadham

Review date: 08/2000

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Short Wave On A Cold Day

Thought Industry - Short Wave On A Cold Day ©2001 Metal Blade
1. Satan In The Gift Shop
2. I'm Lonely (and Grooving Like Cancer)
3. The Waitress In The Bar Orbiting Lo
4. Burning Coal With Margaret
5. Tall Ships On The Rocks
6. Kiss Judy Fly
7. The Measure Of Our Miles
8. Lovers In Flames
9. A Week And Seven Days
10. Particle Hustler
11. Longfellow
12. Hello, Murder
13. So Says Ike
14. Beautiful Coma
15. Interstellar Fix
16. Alien And Pure
17. Untitled

Well, folks, here it is. After many, many months, I have finally found an album by the likes of which I am beyond my superlative adjectives (or, to be put more succinctly, an album that has finally surpassed Nick Cave's newest opus as being the greatest album of the past two years. A remarkable feat, if you ask me). After many lineup changes and with their days of excessive, indulgent progressive metal mastery far behind them, this Kalamazoo quintet has returned with an album that is simultaneously lush, memorable, joyous, dynamic, uplifting, dark, hopeful, and sinister.

Expounding upon the pop influences present on Black Umbrella, Short Wave on a Cold Day follows in the great tradition of penultimate pop classics: Radiohead's OK Computer, the Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin, and the Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. However, while clearly existing in the same realm as the aforementioned bands (if such a beautiful and other-worldly realm does indeed exist), Brent Oberlin and company have attained a sound that is, in a word, occidental. That is to say that you would not imagine this particular album coming from anywhere else in the world but the Midwest. I suppose a proper summation of Short Wave would come into being if the Martians from Planet 9 From Outer Space or War of the Worlds beamed in through the amplifiers and recording equipment of a recording session of a split album between Radiohead and the Smashing Pumpkins.

After precisely forty seconds of odd little bleeps and blops with (assumedly) Oberlin singing a part of "The Star Spangled Banner" in a purposely off-key fashion, "Satan in the Gift Shop" begins. Starting with a solitary, pensive guitar line, the song then literally explodes around the listener in a deluge of lush synths, rhythmic, pulsating drums, a truly strange and angular lead guitar line, equally odd radio sounds, and Brent Oberlin's unmistakable singing. A perfect opener to a perfect album! Its successor, "I'm Lonely (and Grooving Like Cancer)", is a rocking and energetic ride through 60s psychedelia compounded by an alien invasion, replete with a synthesized theremin sound and jangly lead guitars. "The Waitress in the Bar Orbiting Lo" and "Burning Coal With Margaret" purely extrapolate upon Brent Oberlin's growing interest in pop influences (the latter of which wouldn't be entirely out of place on the Smashing Pumpkins' Machina: Machines of God album). "Tall Ships on the Rocks" is a relaxing, moody, and beautiful tune that puts the Radiohead influence at the forefront, with an emotional and impassioned performance by Oberlin. Easily one of the greatest songs on the album is "Kiss Judy Fly", a soaring, insightful, uplifting, and beautiful piece that comes complete with affecting, chorused, arpeggiated guitars and energetic drums (with lots of cymbal rides). The song itself often reminds me of the Moody Blues' "Once Upon a Time" in terms of structure and its ability to uplift. "The Measure of Ours Miles", while being quite pensive and moody, is the most bitter song on the album, while "Lovers in Flames" is an entirely acoustic song that brings to mind many folk artists of the 1960s and 70s. Both "Particle Hustler" and "A Week and Seven Days" contain some truly brilliant guitar work by Oberlin and Mike Roche, the latter of which providing his fair share of beautiful, concise lead guitar work. "So Says Ike" is a meticulous, mid-paced groover. "Interstellar Fix" is a hypnotic and tranquil Floydian ballad, and the final song, "Alien and Pure", is the harshest song on the album, occasionally peppered with harsh distortion and some screaming. The bonus track is a truly odd pseudo-electronic noisescape that actually provides an ample conclusion to an album; a great, rumbling explosion. Much akin to the Big Bang and Big Crunch theories, Short Wave on a Cold Day begins much as it ends.

Perhaps the most resplendent aspect of this album is Brent Oberlin's performance. While he doesn't really make an effort to stand out as a guitar player (for performance purposes, he switched from bass to guitar when Outer Space is just a Martini Away was written), his contributions as both vocalist and lyricist are truly stellar. His voice evokes the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne at times. Not so much in sound, as Oberlin's voice is clearly his own, but in the unique ability to evoke an almost childish honesty. His voice is often multi-tracked (another comparison to Coyne) to provide a choral effect. Those who were disappointed in the fact that Oberlin had foregone his brilliant, involved, J.D. Salinger-esque, stream of consciousness lyrics and prose for angst-ridden personal poetry on Black Umbrella will be pleased to know that he juxtaposes both types perfectly on this album. Ambiguous, all-American, undeniably left-wing, and even personal at times, Oberlin's lyrics provide lots of reading pleasure. My personal favorite is "Lovers in Flames" which contains the lines "I'll carve out my grandfather's spine, and turn it into a boat/Shore up the holes with my hands, and see if the vessel will float/Steer it into the waves, with the devil at the rudder/I'll carve out my grandfather's spine, and turn it into a boat."

It is surprising to me that Thought Industry hasn't been garnering the attention given to the likes of Radiohead and Sigur Ros, as Short Wave on a Cold Day is easily the greatest and most dynamic album of the past two years. It is needless to say that you, precious reader, need this album. It beckons for you. Hear its ceaseless of cries of loneliness. I apologize for my discursive ramblings. I will say no more.

Review by Alec A. Head

Review date: 12/2001

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