When I fell across the Alabama outfit Thomas Function last year at SXSW, I absolutely loved what they brought to the live performance. Their vibrant energy and jangling guitars brought so much force that it was hard to ignore them. So when Fat Possum sent me their new album, In the Valley of Sickness, I was eager to see if their live stage presence would carry over the recorded material. Surprisingly, sort of, they do live up to my expectations, if not exceed them.
As soon as you hear the vocals, you’ll recognize them, at least if you’ve been hanging out in the Austin area for the last few years. The voice sounds exactly like The Strange Boys, with a whole lot of Southern influence, but just a touch more clarity than the Austin kids. Sure, they sound a bit off-kilter, but the energy hiding behind the vocals is enough to push the music along.
As you go track by track through this album, you can tell that these boys are all about having a little it of fun, which is great to see, as this is the least arty record to come out this year. “Day in the Shade” comes at you full force, and it almost seems as if these boys are going so fast that they are bound to run off the tracks at any moment. Still, they hold back just enough to finish the song. You also can’t deny the humor from this album, which shows once again, that Thomas Function is just out there enjoying their rock n’ roll lifestyle. On “Picking Scabs” the call of “are you going to buy a record or not” seems to show that these boys know their place in the music world, and if you help support them, you’ll keep them out on the road to rock for years to come.
For me, I can’t really go on with this review without mentioning “Belly of the Beast.” It’s like mellow power-pop with a twist from the Deep South. Backing vocals are used to perfection, and touches of organ don’t ever seem to hurt a song with jangling guitars. Similarly, “Two Pigs” is another such tune that shows the band’s abilities, even when they aren’t going full force in your face. Holding back seems to suit the group, if not only to show their diversity as songwriters. These two songs fit perfectly into the album, and by filling out the sound, it shows Thomas Function knows no bounds.
For all those kids who loved the early Kings of Leon albums, or just enjoy a touch of Southern rock in their punk, you’ll want to find your way to a record store to get your hands on In the Valley of Sickness. This group is far and above one of the more enjoyable listens for this year, and you’ll treasure all the foot-stomping moments Thomas Function gives you for the rest of your days.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/06-Belly-Of-The-Beast-1.mp3]
Download: Thomas Function – Belly Of The Beast [MP3]