"Let's Bottle Bohemia"
"Who Killed . . . the Zutons"
The Thrills' debut album, "So Much for the City," didn't impress many Americans other than music critics, but it went multi-platinum in the band's home of Ireland and nearby in England. And yet, ironically, it was a very American album, borrowing the art-pop harmonies of Brian Wilson and the Zen country of Gram Parsons in songs such as "Santa Cruz," "Big Sur" and "Hollywood Kids." The Dublin quintet's sophomore release, "Let's Bottle Bohemia," also has a California tinge, but it's a different California. The beach-and-desert innocence has been replaced by freeway angst and the existentialist folk-rock of Tom Petty, Jackson Browne and John Doe, but the new disc is just as effective.
The Thrills' lead singer, Conor Deasy, has always had a weary warble not unlike Petty's, but now that the pretty harmonies have receded, his throaty ache is more obvious. It fits the new batch of songs, which reflect the disillusionment of one's mid-twenties, when a person discovers, as Deasy does on "Tell Me Something I Don't Know," that the "streets aren't paved with gold" and "problems follow like a parade." He contemplates the hollow pleasures of celebrity by describing "Our Wasted Lives" and by asking of the 1980s teen actor, "Whatever Happened to Corey Haim?"
But Deasy never whines; he sounds genuinely surprised that life hasn't turned out as expected, and that surprise is translated into the band's unpredictable chord changes and odd collisions of texture. R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Brian Wilson's co-writer Van Dyke Parks each contribute to two tracks, but it's Kevin Horan's elegant piano parts that fuel the heartfelt apology of "You Can't Fool Old Friends With Limousines" and the undiminished yearning of "Not for All the Love in the World."
Liverpool's Zutons have an American accent as well, though a slightly more fractured one that mixes Captain Beefheart off-beat rock, Sly and the Family Stone's soul and funk a la New Orleans/New Wave New York (kudos to squawking saxophonist Abi Harding). Lead singer David McCabe, who calls this quirky brew "zombie soul," crafts songs that range from the tension-and-release rock of "Pressure Point" and "You Will, You Won't" and funk-punkers "Long Time Coming" and "Dirty Dancehall" to such yearning meditations as "Confusion," "Not a Lot to Do" and "Remember Me." Produced by former Lightning Seeds frontman Ian Broudie, this debut album is itself quite the thrill.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Saturday at the Black Cat. * To hear a free Sound Bite from the Thrills, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8108; to hear the Zutons, press 8109. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)