Thank You Scientist
Maps of Non-Existent Places
02. A Salesman’s Guide to Nonexistence
03. Feed the Horses
04. Blood on the Radio
06. Suspicious Waveforms
08. Concrete Swan Dive
09. In the Company of Worms
10. My Famed Disappearing Act
So far, 2012 has been a glorious year for underground music in the eyes of many, and will likely be looked upon fondly in retrospect. Genres such as prog and death metal, the latter especially, have enjoyed a creative outburst and have given us a plethora of releases that look capable of enduring the test of time and becoming trademark classics. However, one other genre that has not received as much recognition this year, despite producing equally timeless masterpieces, is jazz fusion, specifically the metal-y kind of jazz fusion. With diverse, original, and downright awesome releases from the likes of Diablo Swing Orchestra, Trioscapes, and T.R.A.M., this niche subgenre has quickly started rising as of late, although overshadowed by its bigger brothers.
That’s where Thank You Scientist comes in. This relatively young New Jersey 7-piece splashed the scene last year with the EP The Perils of Time Travel, which, although excellent in its own right, served merely to hint at what the band had in store on their debut full-length. And what a debut this is. Although it cannot be objectively said if it possesses greater overall quality, Maps of Non-Existent Places certainly manages to outdo all the aforementioned bands in terms of creativity and sonic diversity. Armed with what is regarded as the traditional arrangement for any modern band (guitar, bass, drums, vocals) plus a trumpet, saxophone, violin, and viola, Thank You Scientist have set out to stuff together as many genres and musical motifs as humanly possible, whilst still sporting a tasty, nutritious meal. Boy oh boy have they succeeded.
This record is completely nuts and all over the place, yet it is very focused and accessible. Not only does it have a little something for every kind of music fan out there, but it might change your mind about all the styles that you thought you didn’t like, too. Fancy your music sweet and poppy? Salvatore “Beardless Stranger” Marrano has you covered with his sugary pipes. Maybe you’re interested to see how more contemporary genres combine with different types of folk/world music? Just check the Balkan-style intro on ‘Blood on the Radio’ or the tribute to India in ‘In the Company of Worms’. Are you perhaps one of those people for whom the phrase jazz fusion rhymes with tech metal? Don’t worry, wanky guitar sections are aplenty throughout, and album closer ‘My Famed Disappearing Act’ alone will suffice. Funk? Ditto. Jazz? Duh.
Like previously stated, though, the beauty of this record is not just the sheer clusterfuck of genres, but its ability to meld them all into a sound that has a distinguishable identity, and is generally pleasant and enjoyable to hear. Chances are, these hooks will be stuck in your head for days to no end, regardless of whether it is the guitar, sax, vocals, or anything else that is producing them. After all, good music, regardless of genre(s), is almost universally characterized with memorabilia and skilled songwriting.
Sadly, it is the latter that Thank You Scientist might need some improvement at. While it is borderline criminal to say that the songwriting here is bad, the record does suffer from a mild case of unevenness. Some songs are simply superior to others, and in other cases a song has specific parts that outshine the rest of it. Case in point: ‘Absentee’ works great as a quirky smooth jazz ballad, but it pales in comparison to the explosive energy and dynamic structure of the two tracks that precede it. This cools down the album’s momentum just as it is heating up. Furthermore, ‘A Salesman’s Guide to Non-Existence‘, the album’s first “real” track, opens up with one of the catchiest intros on the entire record only to dissolve into a bland, directionless mid section, before eventually harking back to the same melody found at the start.
Alas, even this criticism is minor in the grand scheme of things, and should be taken with a grain of salt. For, as easy as it is to say that Thank You Scientist have slapped on a handful of brilliant songs to a bulk of above-average ones, seeing it the other way around is just as viable an option. Look no further than the instrumental epic ‘Suspicious Waveforms’ as evidence. This barrage of solos seems to be included merely as a showcase of the instrumental prowess of all musicians in the band, yet it packs said technicality into such an ever-developing, consistent structure that the track ends up miles ahead of every other song on the album, leaving them all in the dust. But, at least for this reviewer, an album comprised of just one track of such excellence would be year-best material even when coupled with nothing but a big ol’ chunk of filler. The scary part is that there isn’t any filler on here, as every single track is great in its own right. What we’re left with, then, is not only a record of exceptional quality and character, but a true work of art, and a standout among a year of standouts.
Thank You Scientist – Maps of Non-Existent Places gets…