These Curious Thoughts
Building Mountains From the Ground
Review by Kent Manthie
The new, fifth album from These Curious Thoughts, Building Mountains from the Ground is a good effort from musical collaborators who work together via the internet and live in two separate continents, separated by the Atlantic Ocean.
TCT got together in an unusual manner: they’re a duo made up of Sean Dunlop and Jamie Radford who started out as “pen pals”, Sean living in Detroit and Jamie living in outer London. For almost eight years now the two have been sending back and forth bits and pieces of their music and lyrics via the internet. This, I confess, is my introduction to the band, so I can’t honestly say what they sounded like in the early days, but on Building Mountains the “internet effect” does not seem to interfere at all. It all sounds so seamless. But then again, if you think about it, how much different is this compared to doing overdubs in a studio? Right. It works very well and the result is a very un-British sound to it! Building Mountains from the Ground has a musical style which is your basic rock-pop that has some rough-hewn edges, a knack for plaintive, but gracefully swept vocals.
The two “pen pals” that comprise These Curious Thoughts have been perfecting their transatlantic musical collaborative relationship for about 10 years. They are Sean Dunlop and Jamie Radford. The latter lives in England and pens the lyrics, then sends them via email to Dunlop, based in Detroit, who then creates some great music. I’ve read that Radford writes the lyrics, emails them to Sean who then composes the music to mold around the words. I’d think that the formula would be more interchangeable, since sometimes a good melody itself can inspire lyrics and vice versa. But, I guess if this way works for them, exclusively…
One of my favorite tunes on Building Mountains… is “Lost in Confusion”, a spiraling, frenetic, song that adds some spice to the mix; the latter half of it gels together and it then goes on about being caught in a fishbowl and the more exposure, the more confusion, a vicious circle. “John Wayne” is a cleverly penned song about hero-worship and how it doesn’t really work anymore in these days of “kill your idols”, TV shows and magazines that live to capture so-called “celebrities” in bad lights and to expose their scandals and secrets. “I’ve Got God on the Phone” is a clever tune that, just from the song title, should be evident how it makes light of holy-rolling zealot-hypocrites whose pretense is as pious sheep but behind the mask they’re just as avaricious as the next guy. “Arctic Heart Attack” is another fabulous, anthem-like sing-along, slow-but steady song; this one, I’m sure, would sound great, performed live. The whole joint would be screaming at the end of it. The album’s final two cuts, “Animals” and “Get Along” also keep bouncing along. Building Mountains… just doesn’t run out of steam – the whole thing stays fresh and interesting throughout all nine songs – and they’re not nine short, fast, pop tunes – the majority of the songs average about 4 ½ – 5 minutes, the shortest being the closing song, “Get Along”, which they whip through in just over two minutes, and end with a bang that doesn’t go on and on, but blows out – BOOM! – and it’s over.
What I like about TCT is that, even though they live far apart and work via the internet, the songs they create turn out to be quite seamless and cohesive without being together to work things out. There must be a lot of back-and-forth between the two before the final products are put out for consumption. The music is packaged in pop-music wrapping, but as it unfolds there is a lot of high-spirited, sometimes a little jaded cleverness that doesn’t heel to any one pre-packaged, perishable flavor. It is groovy, it’s rockin’, it has great beats and cool bits of guitar riffs, hooks and solos and both Sean and Jamie contribute vocals to this. The more I listen to this the more I admire how polished the guitar playing is. It is a tribute to These Curious Thoughts that this two-man venture can have such a big sound – more so than many bands two or three times the size. Also, the fact that, since Sean and Jamie live in completely different surroundings means that there is no concrete footing that you can pin on them, they’re not a “Detroit” band, nor a “British” band; nor do they fall into any categories of the “Pacific NW Sound”, the “Downtown Manhattan Noise-Art Scene” or the “Funky L.A. Hipster Scene”. Here’s hoping that there’ll be more to come from this uniquely poised duo, I can’t wait -KM.