The four guys of Thank You love games. Tabletop games like foosball, video games like Fez—the soundtrack is an inspiration for keyboardist/singer Owen Whitcomb—and Situationist walking games where you pick a pattern of city blocks and follow it until you’re completely lost. As long as it’s fun and interesting, they’ll try it.
“Music is kind of a weird game too,” says Will Segerstrom, who sings and plays guitar in the band. “You can change it however you see the rules fit.”
Thank You’s second album, Sardine Dream, released in October, is full of surprises. It starts with a guitar played in reverse and ends with the sound of waves crashing on a beach. In between, the band toys with new wave synths, jazzy guitar runs and baroque pop hooks. A vocal part echoes like a rock skittering across ice, submerged sound effects chirp like submarine sonar and falsetto la-la-las fill many of the spaces in between. The more you listen, the more you notice.
Clearly, a lot of time and love went into making the record, which the band recorded at their practice space in Capitol Hill, doing takes between the noise of neighboring metal bands, the plunk of the hallway vending machine and activity in the bathroom next door. The death knells of their cheap amps buzzing in the background didn’t help.
“That’s that homemade ambient charm, man,” says drummer Joel Harrison.
In spite of the production challenges, Sardine Dreams sounds phenomenally tight. Segerstrom and Whitcomb have been playing in bands together for years, and their bond shows. Even venturing into unusual territory, they stick together. The band locks into a laid-back groove on “Natural Boy,” navigates quick group hits on the album’s lone instrumental track, “Rob’s Wet Dream” and slides seamlessly between a campy chorus and tropical breakdown on “Heaven,” the album’s winning closer. Through it all, Sardine Dream exudes a thrilling sense of variety. Some songs bounce with Orange Juice-esque whimsy, others echo peak Tame Impala and still others sound like Boards of Canada producing a Zombies track.
The musicians in Thank You have equally eclectic backgrounds. Segerstrom played in a hardcore band in high school. Whitcomb took accordion lessons as a kid and later taught himself bass. Harrison, who joined in July, grew up playing in church bands, while Joe Waine, recently recruited to play bass, makes his own art-pop in the Joe Waine Band.
They’re brought together by an unmistakable sense of childlike glee. Look no further than the band’s Facebook page to understand their irreverent worldview. If you have trouble finding it, go for the profile picture of “Thank You” spelled out in spaghetti. There the announcement post for their new album consists of a Bandcamp link, a slanted picture of a banana on a snare drum and a caption reading “The music is ready.” A smiley face emoji stands in for a period.
Their sense of humor comes through loud and clear on Sardine Dream. The narrator in “Crooning in the Moonlight” is hilariously indecisive and borderline delirious about a romance, following the line “I don’t believe in love anymore“ with the line “I believe in love, that’s for sure.” The band named another song “Mint Wario” after a Super Mario character. “Visitors,” written by Whitcomb, is about trading notes with aliens.
“There’s a sweet spot between doing things well and having a sense of humor about it,” Whitcomb says.
Pushed to give the music a name, Thank You created a new tag on bandcamp: “zoom.” Sardine Dream’s seven short songs rush past you, almost before you’ve had time to process it all, so in a strange way, “zoom” does fit. But Sardine Dream reads easiest as a combination of psychedelic pop and arcade music, merging the imagination of the former with the reliable giddiness of the latter. It’s a playful mix that bends genres and breaks rules with a sense of mischief, and it’s a joy to listen to.