Les Thugs

Nineteen Something

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What will it take to make the Western Hemisphere notice France's popular les Thugs? How many solid, cranking LPs must they make, how many thankless U.S. tours need they undertake, before their cake finally bakes? This foursome has long passed paying its dues, and records for Sub Pop, yet you can't find more than a handful here who know them, let alone love them. Not that les Thugs give a rat's ass. They just keep releasing LPs every two years. Four friendly chaps who sing in English (and converse in it well), they are an unusual mixture of a humble work ethic off stage and proud, committed, restrained-rage determination on it. And they're damn great, an extremely unique, always hummable, thinking fan's post-punk band, like seemingly thousands of others using few chords, and yet totally unique and thoroughly modern. These Thugs weren't always so singular (though they've always been worthwhile). Circa 1989 they were the Anger's answer to Mommy's Little Monster-era Social Distortion and early Stiff Little Fingers, a thick, pummel-punk style they kept working at until they perfected it on 1993's hot As Happy as Possible. However, showing an admirable desire to mature and expand, they revamped their approach, adding a more esoteric, atonal, impressionistic, and hypnotic repetition to their attack on 1996's surprising Strike (recorded by Steve Albini to make them even more spontaneously immediate), a brilliantly fascinating transition they retain and even better on Nineteen Something -- this time with wonderful Seattle recording legend and As Happy producer Kurt Bloch returning behind the desk. As with Strike, when the straight-ahead punch occurs on "Henry's Back," "Side by Side," and "I Was Dreaming," there are undercurrents to the roar that remind (in a different sound/style) of the best of Stereolab or 1979 Wire (see "Defeated"). The pleasant vocals can be spare, simple little phrases, near-mantras that circulate and percolate. Heavy distortion clings like dust to the background, and the riffs keep looping, even within a single chord. The effect is sneakily mesmerizing, in the totality of the LP, as the drums and bass keep churning, churning, churning, pushing on those riffs and uncomplicated, circular leads, while quieter/stranger songs add spice.

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