On the cover of Thieves Like Us’s Play Music is a photograph of a girl passed out at the foot of a flight of stone steps. Though her face isn’t visible, the girl is presumably attractive, laying on a filthy floor covered in cigarette butts and dirt, holding an empty glass whose content she has spilled. This picture, by itself, essentially explains the whole feeling of Play Music: another ode to urban boredom, the repetitive and dissatisfying nature of club culture, and casual lust. This stuff seems to be the subject matter of many an electro record lately, but when this is your life, it must seem like there is plenty of creative output to be mined from the goings on in the pissy alleyway next to your favorite nightclub.
The story of Thieves Like Us is a moderately interesting one. Two Swedes and an American, Theives Pontus, Bjorn and Andy (guess which one is the American?) met at a park in Berlin in 2002. They became friends and started going out to clubs in Berlin, only to find out that they didn’t like the techno the DJs played, and that the girls didn’t like them (double bummer). They somehow managed to get gigs DJ-ing, and played the music they wanted to hear (Krautrock, Italo disco, Iggy Pop, David Bowie), which the Germans also didn’t particularly like. Their final method of retaliation was to attempt to make electro better than what they were hearing, and while I can’t vouch for what they were hearing, I can vouch for their attempt, and it’s a solid one.
The oddest thing about Play Music is that there’s a number of conventionally danceable tracks — "Drugs In My Body," "Headlong Into Night," and "Your Heart Feels" — strewn in between spacier, more atmospheric songs — "Program of the First Part" and "An Easy Tonight." You might wonder why this is, but it quickly becomes apparent that Thieves Like Us’s more accessible songs are so simplistic in instrumentation and theme that if the record was filled with them for start to finish, it might make the material seem more juvenile than it actually is.
The album’s strength really, is evoking so strongly the excessive, lonely culture that the music comes from. Apart from the great video for "Drugs in My Body," the song’s distant vocals feel like a restless, indulgent, searching night. Even though the lyrics for "Your Heart Feels" seem kind of like a caption by an overly melodramatic nightlife photographer, their combination with the song’s simple, driving beat, describes so well the internal falling that accompanies the knowledge that something is just out of reach. If only every group of bored, rejected guys was this productive.