On first listen to Essex band Nothing But Thieves, I had completely different expectations. I heard the first few tracks and assumed that every song hence would have huge choruses and a strong, punchy presence. It soon became clear that the band covet slow, emotive ballads too. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the thing that initially drew me to them was Conor Mason’s Matt Bellamy-esque wailing. Rather than this being a huge criticism, it’s good that the tracks are a good mix of quiet and heavy tunes that vary in style.
To quote Hypernetic, the songs are “[m]ournful and melodic, mixe[d] with blistering and boisterous”. In January, the band told MTV that they have many influences, but their “staple diet” is comprised of classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Late musician Jeff Buckley is also mentioned as an influence, especially on “Itch”. Whatever the song, it’s clear that the band are passionate about their craft, which makes for great listening.
I discovered Nothing But Thieves when I heard opening track “Excuse Me” on Spotify. It starts off with a subdued, sleepy melody which didn’t peak my interests, but as soon as I skipped further in, I was blown away. Upon hearing the vocals, I got the image of a feminine singer with a bit of a grunge edge. I had to Google the band and watch live performances before my brain would admit to its mistake. Mason’s voice sounds a little like Karen O’s but during the really high notes, images of Muse are conjured up. Mason is fantastic at holding and controlling these notes and a good example of this is towards the end of “If I Get High”.
At the beginning of “Hostage”, we get an immediate taste of the strong vocals again, and Mason aptly sounds like someone in distress who is singing their woes away; I got the image of someone trapped on an island directing their voice towards an endless sea, especially with the lyric: “Sometimes I feel like a hostage when I’m in the dark”. The track has a slight industrial element to it, from the dark bass to the electronic sounds woven in-between the whole piece. The band describe it as the song which has “the most electronics on it” and recall that the composition process was “the biggest experiment on the album” (which, spoiler alert, works a treat).
The lyrics to Nothing But Thieves’ songs don’t have clear-cut meanings. When I tried to decipher part of the chorus to “Wake Up Call” (“Sometimes the hours are wasted / No-one will give you a wake-up call”), I assumed that it was about people who needed to change their monotonous relationship. I have no idea if I’m right, but that’s what the band thrive on – individual interpretations. Joe Langridge-Brown, guitarist and co-founder along with Mason, said that “one of our favourite things is for someone to say to us, ‘Oh, I think the song is about this’. It’s not, but that’s so nice for us to hear”.
A song will speak to people in different ways, whether the meaning is supposed to be obvious or not, and it’s great that they find pleasure in each subjective connection. The artwork for Nothing But Thieves is a dark horse in mid-gallop coming through a translucent patch of white and that’s exactly how I felt when I heard the album for the first time; it was unexpected, powerful, and majestic. That’s my interpretation and whilst it may also be totally wrong, I stand by it! Nothing But Thieves’ self-titled debut LP is out now via RCA/Sony, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Shanade McConney