The cover of Thee Ahs’ third album draws attention to their self-styled genre: black bubblegum pop. Perhaps this connotes the codified juxtaposition of heavy tones and light subject matter—or vice versa. But Thee Ahs possess a subtler, idiosyncratic dynamic.
They are high-fidelity, both in song and subject matter. Acerbity doesn’t hide behind walls of feedback; the emotional narratives are franker. Songs shift between building tension and blissful progressions of melody, both buoyed by bouncy dynamics. It’s a sound true to the complex emotions Thee Ahs express: the play between free-spirited melodic sweetness, troubling reticence, and sheer invective.
Save one portion of harsh distortion on the track “Love Sleep,” Thee Ahs’ dynamic exists in progressive movements of melody and cheeky instrumental dynamics. Strong vocals figure into the forefront thanks to Sarah Lowenbot’s intonation and Davinah Shell’s harmonization. While maintaining their soft tone, they absolutely nail a tight rhythmic assonance with the instruments. Many of the album’s highest moments are stolen by the duo, when the vocal momentum supersedes the backing and transforms, beautifully aloft amidst a relative dearth of sound.
Equally strong is the instrumentation. While the melodic guitar lines are pleasing, the key features of these strings are their dissonant sense of play. Stop-start rhythm and counter-melodic chords take up large portions of songs, or chop up in the interstices. Mareesah Holmes’ drums rebut and build up in equal measure, sometimes in tandem with the dissonant chords, sometimes in focus with the vocal movement towards crescendo. Altogether the tone of the instruments possesses an infectious bounce—the catalyst for innervation both within the listener and the vocal movement.
This sense of play is evinced in the album’s immediately standout tracks. Corey’s Coathangers never settles down, moving from tangent to tangent, ending on a somber note but with a cheeky three-second bounce-back and reprise. “Does It Still Count” encompasses Thee Ahs’ foreboding tendencies, as well as their lyrical penchant for zeroing in on affective exclamations.
That this combination never feels incongruous evinces the strength of Shell’s songwriting. Thanks to the band’s excellent chemistry, the complex relationship between disparate emotions is relayed by the dynamic music. The emerging picture is quotidian yet dreamlike, sharp yet soft, if only because these things aren’t mutually exclusive within our experiences.
Thee Ahs paint a wonderful neighbourhood world, where scraped knees flare out in a sharp contrast of crimson.