The final sounds of Thank You’s 2008 record, the startling Terrible Two, are of an exhausted organ fading reluctantly into silence. That nine-minute title track isn’t so much punctuating coup de grace for these favored sons of avant-garde rock from Baltimore as much as it is a statement of unfinished business. Terrible Two was the uncatorgorizable trio’s second album and a stylistic breakthrough. By placing Elke Wardlaw’s feverish percussion in the spotlight, with the dissonant, angular guitars of 2007’s World City subdued but still present, Terrible Two let fly a lot of alert ideas, but the band was still learning the vocabulary to express them.
Golden Worry, the group’s second record on Thrill Jockey and first with new drummer Emmanuel Nicolaidis, is even closer to being the landmark record that Thank You is capable of delivering. Nicolaidis is just as wonderfully manic behind the drum kit as Wardlaw was on Thank You’s earlier recordings, but Golden Worry’s opener, “1-2-3 Bad,” begins by delivering what Thank You seemed so reluctant to give on their last two outings: a killer guitar riff. “Bad” is reminiscent of Eno’s spitfire kickstarter “Needles in the Camel’s Eye,” from 1974’s Here Come the Warm Jets, both in its excited determination to experiment and its joy in pairing that with the occasional thick-blooded melody.
One of Golden Worry’s best songs is “Birth Reunion,” which happily retains the best qualities of Thank You’s free-jazz-meets-krautrock approach while delivering Sonic Youth-style hooks.
This diversity is shown not only in the album’s refreshing addition of coltish, galloping guitars, but also in the occasional pairing of instruments and effects that seem best suited to ’60s B-movie soundtracks. The Moog organ swells that appeared on Terrible Two are still here, but now that they’re placed next to hillbilly jaw harp twangs and submarine radar howls on “Continental Divide” there’s no doubt that the trio now has the confidence to be foolish while still taking their art seriously. “Divide” also features perhaps the record’s most breathtaking moment, when, at the two-minute mark, the bombastic storm of chaos that swirls through the song stops suddenly, leaving only a weaving bass line swooping over and under a deliberate percussive heartbeat. After a few bars, the chiming guitar enters like a siren’s call, only to be crushed by a typhoon of power-chord distortion.
That moment is indicative of Golden Worry’s sum-total success as a carefully composed and memorable tempest of a record. Prior to this album, Thank You was more concerned with exploring aggressive soundscapes, building mounting tension with an admirable flair for adventure, but rarely finding satisfying resolution or climax. That’s proves to no longer be the case. This is a pivotal record for Thank You, but just as Terrible Two made good on its promise of greater things to come, Golden Worry still leaves some territory to be explored. As of right now, the main emotional component of this music is the whiplash thrill of hearing rock music played on the edge of sanity, but if we can be nudged into feeling something in our hearts more affecting or cerebral, something more powerful than an echoing warstomp, then we’ve got a landmark album on our hands. Thank You has the tools necessary to do it.