In 1992, the defending AFC Champion Buffalo Bills faced the Houston Oilers in the AFC Wild Card round. The first half of this game was a disaster for the Bills. Jim Kelly out with an injury and the Oilers dominated going into halftime with a 28-3 lead. Dejected, the Bills didn’t have a lot of time to make changes, but they realized they were the defending champs and needed to live up to that. The second half featured a completely different team, as backup quarterback Frank Reich threw 4 touchdowns to bring the game into overtime, which the Bills eventually won 41-38, making it one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. I’m sure by now all of you are confused as to why I began the review with such a story, but it is a great way to describe Thursday’s second major label album (and fourth overall), A City By The Light Divided.
The album kicks of with a low siren, signaling the beginning of “The Other Side of the Crash/Over and Out (of Control),” a track that hits hard in the intro and has a great chorus, but the verses leave a lot to be desired. “Counting 5-4-3-2-1,” the first single of the song, follows, and this is one of the weakest Thursday songs I’ve heard. While the lyrics are good, it is musically and vocally lacking compared to past Thursday singles. The bridge of this song is what really disappoints. It builds and builds, and I’m expecting Thursday to go crazy on the breakdown, but it never comes, and it really hurts the track. Thankfully, the album picks up slightly with “Sugar In The Sacrament,” a slow, theatrical song that finally features the raw emotion from Geoff Rickly’s voice. This song takes a bit to get into, but the ending of this song is very climatic with Rickly chillingly howling, “This is all we’ve ever known of God.” It’s the sole highlight of the track. The following track, “At This Velocity,” should have been the opening track for the album, as it gives you a roundhouse kick to the chest. Guitars and drums crash, vocals are unforgiving, and this is one of the few tracks on the new album that’ll remind you of past Thursday. “We Will Overcome” features good use of the keys from Andrew Everding, and the choir towards the end is a nice touch. Musically the song is good, but it is just missing that Thursday punch. Overall, the first half of this album is just not up to Thursday standards, just like the first half of that playoff game wasn’t up to the Bills standards. Sure, the first half features a few bright spots (“At This Velocity” and the bridges of “Sugar In The Sacrament” and “We Will Overcome”), but I was going into the second half of this album hoping that my favorite band, the Thursday I know and love, would show up.
“Arc-Lamps, Signal Flares, A Shower of White (The Light),” a 2 and a half minute instrumental in the vein of Godspeed You! Black Emperor follows. It’s a good instrumental that leads into a great song and changes the entire vibe to this album. “Running From The Rain” is a somber track that is emotionally heavy. Beginning with a gentle guitar riff and distant beating of the bass drum, it reminds me a bit of an Appleseed Cast intro. Rickly’s vocals grip you immediately and the chorus is big and soaring. “There is blood on the tracks tonight/it runs inside our veins” is the standout lyric of this well written song about one of Rickly’s friend’s who was killed by a train. The guitars of Steve Pedulla and Tom Keeley compliment the rhythm of bassist Tim Payne and drummer Tucker Rule. The album only gets better from here on out with “Telegraph Avenue Kiss” (aka “Demo 2” to fans). Geoff sings with urgency throughout while being backed by dark tones and haunting “oooo’s.” Payne’s bass and Everding’s quiet keys highlight the bridge, and Rickly puts the exclamation point on the song when he wails out, “Spin me around, around, around!” “The Lovesong Writer” follows with a menacing guitar riff and Rickly’s quiet yet poignant vocals, which lead you to the collision of beauty into destruction, as Pedulla and Keeley leave nothing behind with their guitars. The five and a half minute long track features a battle of soft and loud, which displays a perfection of the band’s overall sound. “Into The Blinding Light” follows in the seam of “At This Velocity,” a hard and ruthless track. Rickly’s voice is in full control of this song, and the band doesn’t hold back. These four songs lead the comeback of the album, just like Reich’s four touchdowns led back the Bills. And as the story goes, those 4 touchdowns set up the game-winning field goal, which in Thursday’s case is the closing track, “Autumn Leaves Revisited.” After first listen to this track, I immediately knew this was going to be received as one of the best Thursday songs ever. Starting with a slow piano vibe, the song is full of twists and turns, and has a perfect understanding of when to let go and when to hold back. It closes A City By The Light Divided on a very high and dramatic note.
A City By The Light Divided is a record you need to take time with and hear in its highest form. Do not judge it based on the poor quality stream you might have heard on their myspace. Once you hear this album at high quality, then you can truly appreciate the album and the production of Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mogwai, Sleater-Kinney). Musically, this album is top-notch and Fridmann did a fine job of not overproducing yet polishing the initial demos nicely. Vocally is where this album gets my biggest complaint. It’s not a case of Rickly singing poorly than in previous efforts, but it’s the lack of screaming that hurts. Thursday is one band that I actually encourage screaming in, as it is vital to the overall sound of this band. There were instances in the album where a few more screams would have vastly improved some songs (“Counting..,” and “Other Side Of The Crash” for instance). For some, this record won’t be replayed immediately, just for the fact that it is different from WATT. But that doesn’t take away from the overall staying power of City, for I know that eventually down the road this album will click with many of you and you will simply love it. You will come back to it just to hear different parts of each song, as Thursday does a lot of great things musically that you won’t catch instantly.
While City begins very slowly, Thursday picks it up in the middle and turns this album into something special. City packs more emotion and variety than War All The Time did, so it is a step up from that to me. Even after my initial disappointment, and after listening to this over and over, this is one of best albums I’ve heard in 2006. If you plan on comparing this to earlier Thursday material, you will be disappointed, but if you take it as a separate piece of art and give it time and really listen to it, you will soon come to respect this album as a whole. Thursday did not make a record intended for those with musical ADD or those who want the cookie-cutter “emo/screamo” sound that is portrayed in way too many bands these days, rather it is something that needs to be digested many times before one can appreciate it. A City By The Light Divided is a tale divided into two halves very different from each other, so it may take a bit of patience to get into. So while the first half of the album is weak, the second half of the album more than makes up for it, giving us instant Thursday classics like “Running From The Rain,” “Telegraph Avenue Kiss,” and “Autumn Leaves Revisited.” And just like the Buffalo Bills, it’s not about how you start the game, but about how strong you can comeback and finish, and A City By The Light Divided exemplifies this very well.