While Thrice's third effort bears the imprint of Sub City, the charitable arm of thriving L.A. indie Hopeless, the grandiose die-cut packaging of The Artist in the Ambulance also features the famous rainbow spine of Island, or, in the parlance of the 21st century business umbrella, Island Def Jam Music Group, a division of Universal. Following the same route as sonic compatriots the Used, A.F.I., and the 30 or so other bands thanked in the liner notes, Thrice makes the jump to major-label land with the aid of big-league production and mixing, sick cash flow, and the freedom to stretch both its sound and its vision (each song receives its own panel, upon which each bandmember ruminates). For Artist, helmsman Brian McTernan and mixing guru Andy Wallace have tightened the seams that hold together Thrice's patchwork print of post-hardcore bellow, emotional bluster, and unabashed metal wankery, ensuring an album that teems with the urgency of Thrice's peers' recent work. "The Abolition of Man," "Cold Cash and Colder Hearts," and especially "Paper Tigers" could have easily appeared on 2002's Illusion of Safety; however, none would have been as tightly wound as they appear here. Indeed, the latter cut sounds like a vintage hardcore rant bleeding through on a cassette dub of Accept's Restless & Wild. Wrapped in razor wire and glinting in the moonlight, "Paper Tiger" leads into the churning rhythms of "Hoods on Peregrine." Here, hardcore is switched out for emo, but the technical metal framework stays. Elsewhere, first single "All That's Left" drops a little too much homeroom poetry on listeners ("We tried to bleed the sickness/But we drained our hearts instead/We are the dead"), but still manages to move along at a brisk, teary-eyed clip. It's guaranteed to be the theme song to a tortured teen romance. The more traditional hook of "All That's Left" is welcome. Together with the album's relatively straightforward title track, it checks the unforgiving pace of The Artist in the Ambulance, which sometimes becomes so busy with complicated riffing, solar plexus percussion, and wordy lyricisms that it starts to implode. Certainly benefiting from the ears and editing of McTernan and Wallace, Artist is the strongest Thrice album yet, meaning that Island/Universal gets its money's worth in the best way possible: with good music.
The Artist in the Ambulance Review
by Johnny Loftus