Beats, girl talk and guys playing synths have become inescapable cliches in modern music. So what distinguishes Thieves Like Us besides a chance meeting and a shared dislike of their expat home’s music scene? The band’s stiffly danceable single in 2005, “Drugs In My Body,” may have been aligned with hip, French fashion and dance label Kitsuné, but the group soon moved to the more introspective and poppy Shelflife label for its 2009 downbeat debut, Play Music. The album went against the grain of forward-thinking German and French peers (by this time, they had also spent time in Paris) and floated aimlessly through a salty sea of synthy nostalgia.
The band’s follow-up, Again And Again, finds the band members continuing their search for a home sound within their expatriate home. They are still filtering their now-familiar reference points into lean synth-pop (the New Order-ish “One Night With You”) and moody electro (the chilled Moroder vibe of “So Clear). However, the album’s most distinguishing feature is its persistent use of subtle beats and rhythms. Like Play Music, no song (with the exception of the relatively menacing “The Walk”) ever propels forward at the pace of modern life or contemporary dance music. The band strips away any hard kicks and allows each song to quietly pulse at a more human pace. Ironically, the album feels best suited for traveling. The album’s sense of minimal exertion, particularly on the warm singles “Never Known Love” and “Forget Me Not,” matches the languid pace of strolling through new sights.
Paying closer attention to each song admittedly reveals an almost painful amount of relationship emoting: three songs include the word “love,” while other song titles, like “Shyness,” “One Night With You” and “Forget Me Not,” scream teen angst. However, vocalist Andy Grier’s soft voice is often buried or mixed in a way to draw more attention to the riffs or synth tones. The interpretation of each song feels more malleable and thus appropriate for the full spectrum of disaffection. Way to grab the attention of everyone, from the sad to the mad.