"Album reviews: Nic Armstrong & The Thieves: A British transplant now thriving in Austin
In the mid-2000′s Nic Armstrong traveled to Austin from his English homeland and never left. We should be glad he stayed. Whether he purposefully decided to make Austin his home or whether the city herself just wouldn’t let go of him is unknown, but however it happened, it worked out in our favor. In November he put out a new EP, Pocketless Shirt, and the tunes are quite swell. The sounds and influences on the EP are varied – on one hand I hear 1960′s-style British pop and on the other hand I hear West Coast-inspired summery fuzz-laden rock. The EP has six songs on it, and each one showcases Nic and his band in an interesting fashion.
The EP opens up with a song called “Set Pieces.” A mix of electric and acoustic guitar sounds, driving drum beats, and Beatles-esque vocals sets the tone for the rest of the album: sunny and bright, bubblegum without being cheesy or too light, and full of fantastic fuzzy guitars and slightly dramatic little twists and turns in the vocals that make the tunes and melodies more memorable. Just try and listen to this song without nodding your head. The next track, “Body Language,” starts out with a rather “beachy” sound that I personally love – complete with fuzzy guitars and simple instrumentation that lets the vocals take center stage. This song would be one of those that gets the crowd dancing at a live show, even those “too-cool-for-dancing-hipsters” (you know the who I’m talking about). There’s also some layered pitch vocals in this song, giving it a neat effect, reminding me a bit of Portugal. The Man.
“It’s a Still Life” is the shortest song on the album, and it quickly but efficiently showcases Nic’s style of speak-singing. It’s a bit trance-like. “Lazy is as Lazy Does” follows, also a little trance-like in nature. A harmonica pierces the middle of the song and reminds me of folk songs from the 1960s about things like sailors and heartache. I wanted to take the song’s title to heart and just put it on repeat while staring at the sky.
“Pocketless Shirt,” the title track, comes next. A driving song, it has a more urgent feel than the past few tracks, and even includes some well-placed muted trumpets! The last song, “Pacific Ocean,” went back to that beautiful fuzz-goth beachy sound that I am absolutely in love with – reminiscent of some West Coast bands heavy on my current rotation, such as The Growlers and The Allah-lahs. The music is slow, the vocals are warbled, reverb abounds, there’s even some actual wave sounds, and Nic repeats “I can’t make up my mind” at the end of the track. I’m not quite sure what is puzzling him, but I know I’ve made up my mind: “Body Language” and “Pacific Ocean” are my favorites on the EP, and I am definitely adding this album into my music rotation.
Keep an eye on Nic Armstrong and the Thieves. Whether their music is British rock, Austin folk, or West-Coast fuzz, it’s good and it’s easy to digest. Check out Nic’s tour dates at http://nicarmstrongmusic.com/live to see when he’ll be playing his next show in town, and don’t forget to pick up a copy of the EP at your local record store.
- Brittany Bartos"