Southend-on-Sea five-piece Nothing But Thieves first strutted onto the scene in 2015 and made a generous splash on the indie rock landscape at the time. Their debut was a confident effort, which featured genuinely interesting tracks with palpable soul; something that can be lost so easily from recording to release. Fronted by Conor Mason, his impressive vocal range gave Nothing But Thieves an instant unique selling point if when, sometimes, the music was a little generic.
Nothing But Thieves’ debut rested primarily on rather safe rock riffs. ‘Broken Machine’, the band’s sophomore effort, is a considerable step forward in musical diversity and composition. The band evidently push for a unique style and sound through tone experimentation, sprinkling in electronic elements, as well as lush instrumental sampling and synth work. From beginning to end, this record is a textbook example of sustaining a coherent album flow, with great production to garnish it.
Broken Machine carries thematics of augmented reality, and the delicate balance of human emotions and that of computer AI. It’s not a unique narrative, plenty of 21st century movies and albums alike have somewhat tackled these themes before. What really makes these themes hit home however, are Mason’s passionate vocals. More often than not, Mason pushes himself to the absolute brink, as evidenced as early as opener ‘I Was Just A Kid’. Coupled with hard-hitting, math rock-esque riffs from Joseph Langridge-Brown and Dominic Craik, Mason belts out the chorus lines to an almighty anthemic extent.
In a complete contrast, love ballad ‘Sorry’ sees a heartfelt Mason apologise profusely in front of a smart, electro-acoustic soundscape. Perhaps one of the more experimental cuts on the record comes in the shape of the title track. Boasting a chill reggae/R&B infused vibe, Mason provides his falsetto in tandem with stunted, AI-like vocal samples. The disjointed guitar refrains add a great dynamic, as well as James Price’s crispy drum beats. Likewise, subsequent cut ‘Live Like Animals’ features Mason semi-rap his socio-political commentary on youth and the media, whilst EDM-influenced guitar refrains dance around frantically.
Throughout the tracklisting, there’s an almost-perfect balance of hard-hitting rock cuts, as well as more downtempo compositions. ‘Soda’ elicits feelings of a late-era Cage the Elephant tune with its blues-psych sensibilities. Moreover, ‘Particles’ pushes more of the band’s confident swagger, with an excellent chorus solely down to Mason’s impassioned falsetto. Closing cut ‘Afterlife’ features a brooding electro aesthetic, constantly bubbling and building to what turns out to be a faux crescendo, yet still entirely satisfying. The second half of this cut proves to elicit certain ‘OK Computer’-era Radiohead vibes, before gradually fading out.
Nothing But Thieves return with a remarkably confident sophomore effort. The band make a drive to discover their true sonic identity and it pays off considerably. Broken Machine communicates that their unique identity is no longer the sole factor of Conor Mason’s voice, but their ability as a cohesive outfit to create compelling, well-crafted and memorable music. There’s no doubt this five-piece will continue to turn heads and generate high praise in the years to come.
Broken Machine is out now via Sony/RCA. The albums full track listing is as follows…
- I Was Just A Kid
- Broken Machine
- Live Like Animals
- I’m Not Made By Design
- Get Better
- Hell, Yeah
- Reset Me
- Number 13
- Sorry (Acoustic)
- Particles (Piano version)