Creativity in the chords

Ever heard of the lovelorn pop/rock/folk genre? What about splitting an album in half and having complementary themes for each part? Rock bands 1997 and Thrice both approach their music in such different ways that it sounds strange to classify them in the same broad genre. Still, their creativity pays off big as they produce distinctive albums that set them apart from the crowd.

1997 is a group of friends from Chicago who got together in 2007. Each band member has a different area of musical expertise, so their album, A Better View of the Rising Moon, became a conglomeration of their talents. While this idea could have ended badly, 1997 makes it work.

It’s difficult at first to pin their music down to any one thing, and their genre isn’t really a good way to describe them. To say that they’re straight-up rock isn’t correct, because they do have a lot of pop and harmonic elements. However, classifying them as purely acoustic wouldn’t be accurate either, as they make use of electric chords and more familiar rock motifs. 1997 is really just a delicious rock smoothie, blending edginess with whimsy, tradition with curiosity, and melody and lyrics together into an upbeat, nutritious, musical delight. It’s the sort of music that has its listeners inadvertently dancing, or at the very least, swaying to the beat.

Their lyrics fit the songs: always optimistic and enthusiastic, but not irritatingly so, which is hard to find these days in pop. Better yet, the lyrics have meaning behind them –– even rarer. The song “Garden of Evil” sounds like it’s playing out the lyrics as the singers voice them: tentative chords for walking, speeding up for running, and then blending the male and female vocals seamlessly together as both contribute different perspectives, playing off each other and then coming together in a harmonious chorus. 1997 also likes to have fun with its lyrics. It is one of the few bands that can use the word “hasten” effectively as well as pun off wistfulness, all in the same song: “I fell into a wishing well ... so much for wishful thinking.”

Overall, A Better View of the Rising Moon is definitely worth a listen. Recommended tracks include “Water’s Edge” and “Patience, Prudence.”

On the other hand, Thrice is a band that falls pretty squarely into one genre, but likes to push the limits of what they can do with their music. Hard rock and proud of it, Thrice’s intrigue lies in how they’ve divided their album The Alchemy Index, Vols. I & II: Fire & Water into two separate parts, as the title suggests.

In the Fire half, the songs are fast-paced and provocative, energy and anger emanating from them in waves. The song “Backdraft” starts out as a kindling few verses, but then as time goes on, gets fanned into a rebellious uproar. All the songs on this half of the album follow basically the same theme: They’re about wrath, unfairness, wanting revenge, and general outrage at the way the world works. While these are all right musically, the lyrics are only so-so. This is the sort of music to be listened to more for the sound than gleaning meaning from the words.

In stark contrast, though, there’s the Water half, which in accordance with the principles of alchemy, is fire’s opposite. True to its name, the songs in this half aren’t at all like the ones in the other. Ranging from longing and desolate to bereft and curious about what this new place holds for them, the songs are musically calmer and smoother, and they present a completely different side of the band. In “Digital Sea,” the singer muses on human existence, woefully saying, “The ghost of Descartes cries again in the dark/oh how could I have been so wrong?” as, in the song’s music video, band members party in a grocery store’s aisles after closing. Their songs’ lyrics are carefully thought out and point out the small tragedies in life. The music, while still rock, doesn’t veer as close to heavy metal as Fire does.

The Alchemy Index as a whole is pretty good. It’s a neat concept, and Thrice handles it well. While Water is deeper lyrically than its counterpart, it doesn’t have the same spontaneity that Fire does. Thrice caters to multiple styles of rock, all in one handy album, perfect for the listener who knows what they like.