Rating: 2.75/5Thieves Like Us is aptly named. Hiding out in Paris, this Swedish-American synth pop trio lifted their moniker from a New Order song, and, indeed, their music would’ve fit snugly into the New Wave ‘80s. After first gaining notice for 2007’s intoxicating debut single “Drugs in my Body,” the Thieves fourth album Bleed Bleed Bleed offers more of the same down-tempo synth bass and plodding drum rhythms that cling to the brainpan like chronic melancholia. Yet, if the album’s whole is greater than the sum of its parts, it’s simply because the parts themselves are so wholly unimpressive. The Thieves’ approach creates a sonic collage that sounds both unique and familiar, but by uniformly coloring within the lines, their music treads perilously close to monotony. Proponents of the album have cited its sameness as an asset, but the near-interchangeability of its tracks bogs down the entire effort. There’s nothing particularly enjoyable about an amorphous cloud stuck in one’s head.
At least Bleed Bleed Bleed shows that the band is making a slight effort to branch out. They employ the new tactic of female vocals to complement lead singer Andy Grier’s overly whispery intonations. In fact, guest Martine Duverglas’ voice is the first we hear in the opening and titular track, one with characteristically slow and steady work on the drum kit and slogging yet catchy synth bass lines. Grier’s huffs and puffs show up for the chorus and make for a passable duet. Meanwhile, “Stay Blue” starts with some psychedelic synth washes that call to mind the aesthetic of Black Moth Super Rainbow. There’s a little shimmy hook in its chorus, but that’s the closest the track gets to treading off the beaten path. As Grier sings, “Will I stay blue?/ Will I stay young?/ I can see past my lonely eyes at night,” he foreshadow that, yes, the mood for the LP’s duration will stay decidedly blue.
“Still Life” defines the languid quality of the album in both title and tone. With warbling keys and a few sprays of synth joined by the Thieves’ trademark synthetic bass, the track is dance music for people who don’t like taking their hands out of their pockets. If these first three songs offer at least a minimum of fluidity, the well goes bone dry in “Fatima.” Droning, atonal vocals bereft of the typically lush synth (and replaced by somewhat abrasive guitar strumming) lose the trace levels of a mellow body buzz from its predecessors in favor of a dull lament. Simply put, one has to question the intent of such a downright boring song.
“Bleed Bleed Bleed II” marks the album’s midpoint and does so with a slower, breathier version of the eponymous opening track. It’s a curious choice to put two renditions of the same song on a 10-track album that already reeks of homogeneity. And with only Grier whispering behind the mic this go-round, it’s a less interesting version than its predecessor. With shoegaze guitar backing, rattling drums, and what sounds like some kind of synth maraca, this unnecessary second installment comes off as little more than an effort to stress the word “bleed” as often as possible within the track list.
But it’s not all bad. Thankfully, “Maria Marie” picks up the tempo enough to settle into a decent groove. Snappy synth bass, meandering guitar, tambourine, and solid female backup vocals create the most sonically complex and satisfying song on the album. The sullen chorus is complemented by the instrumentation and, for once, comes off as laid back and chill instead of somnambulant and stultifying. It’s perhaps the lone salvageable song that could make it onto a mixtape.
Bleed Bleed Bleed’s emotive lyrics and down-tempo offerings all blend together into the same shade of gray and the album ends up barely achieving a pulse. This shouldn’t be all that surprising, given the band’s tendency for album art featuring the same block font (mimicking the one used by New Order on their “Blue Monday/Thieves Like Us” single) and gritty images typically featuring disheveled female bodies crumpled on concrete. By sticking to a formula with few redeeming qualities in the first place, Thieves Like Us is a band that can be accurately judged by its covers.