Sneaky Thieves Accident(s)

[Other Electricities; 2006]

Styles: indie rock, experimental
Others: Radiohead, Jeremy Enigk, Conor Oberst

Obviously talented and thoughtful, Sneaky Thieves have put together a debut showcasing an uncanny knack for understanding the importance of dynamics over the course of the entire album. The opening "Elegy" is a warm organic swell of tones -- something that might even fit on a Fennesz record. From this gentle tease, the band eases into its more standard mode on "With a Smile in a Suit," which uses tuneful bass, melodic piano, and carefully-placed slide guitar to create a delicate and beautiful mix. The album steadily builds, adding more textures to the fray. While the sound constantly evolves, it never loses a core identity forged in the first few tracks. There's a real consistency paired with some adventurousness, an impressive feat indeed.

If there's something that holds me back from falling in love with Sneaky Thieves, it's the occasionally precious voice of Freddy Bale. Of the Conor Oberst/Jeremy Enigk ilk, he emotes and emotes and emotes. In some of the more hushed moments, his mannered whisper works quite well, in particular on the standouts "Nothing, Nothing" and "The Discarded," the latter of which pairs his voice with a female's for excellent results. However, when things get notched up a bit, his thin cry is somewhat cringeworthy, as in "Old Tired Joke” -- as the band ramps up energy and strength, his voice just becomes more fragile. One wishes that some of the other contributing vocalists (there appear to be several) would take the leads in these moments, or at least buttress Bale's with some stronger harmony. Yet, to some listeners, his voice will be an endearing trait. A matter of taste to be sure, it doesn't destroy the album, but it does at least make me wish I could remix certain parts of it for myself.

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