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Thomas Function - In the Valley of Sickness

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Artist: Thomas Function

Album: In the Valley of Sickness

Label: Fat Possum

Review date: Oct. 12, 2009

It’s not enough for a band to play rock ‘n roll. You can imagine the A&R man whispering into the ears of bands that they “need an edge,” or maybe an “angle.” Something to “really hook” the audience. Nowadays, the industry may be less relevant, but the sentiment remains, just repackaged as “going viral” or “with a twist.” It’s all about the gimmick, and which gimmicks we as fans allow ourselves to fall for. As listeners, we all rush to decide where new bands fall into the vague and absurd taxonomy of garage/pop/psych/lo-fi/something-wave bands that we’ve been building for the inevitable “I Love the Aughts” on VH1 10 years down the line.

Which is what makes Thomas Function’s In the Valley of Sickness such a pleasantly boring record to talk about. When it comes down to it, it’s just a really good rock album. None of the superfluous critic-speak is necessary or even sensible beyond that. Sure, we can play the name game: In the Valley of Sickness sounds like Reigning Sound before they got all grown up, a cousin of King Tuff that’s a cross between a gruffer Gentleman Jesse and a less batshit Nobunny. The organs will bring to mind the Turpentine Brothers, and the clean swagger a throwback to some early Television or even the B-52’s. But in the end, this is just a really good rock album, made by a bunch of guys who know how to write really good songs.

Thomas Function’s agenda is strictly that of the typical modern-day young person fighting the good fight. The line in the sand between them and authority is drawn right away on “ADP Blues,” with a sugar-coated hook consisting of “the only good cop, is a dead cop.” They address the economic woes of the scene on “Picking Scabs,” which is just about whether you’re gonna buy a goddamn record or not. The whole record operates somewhere between a bar fight and a high school buddy movie. And “Waverly” handles boy-girl relations in the most awkward and “silliest” way possible. All simple and to the point, enjoyable in the moment without having to dive deep to dig it.

What’s most enjoyable about this record, though, is the complete lack of pretentiousness. Thomas Function avoids the irrelevant issues of band identity and their place in some broader rock canon to focus entirely on the music. The only way to talk about them is in regard to their actual sound. They just write good songs, and let the rest of us sort out how we feel about them. In that sense, this a sincere band that traffics in truisms: if they weren’t any good, they wouldn’t have bothered in the first place.

The biggest weakness is the lack of editorial oversight. The middle of the album gets swamped down in a couple clunkers, and even some of the hits can go on for just a little longer than needed. But if they love their songs enough to let them overstay their welcome, I think we can allow them that.

By Evan Hanlon

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