2015 has been a whirlwind year for Southend-on-Sea’s Nothing But Thieves. Having kicked off the year as a nominee for MTV’s Brand New, the Conor Mason-fronted quintet have gone on to play massive shows the world over, including a huge stint supporting Muse in Italy. That the guys have had the honour to share the stage with a band like Muse says a lot about their sound, because it comes across as the love child of early Radiohead guitars and Muse’s wailing vocals. Their self-titled debut effort comes out tomorrow, and it’s full of everything which has leant Nothing But Thieves so much promise these last months. Read on for our exclusive, track by-track preview of the record.
The album kicks off on Excuse Me, with frontman Conor Mason’s moody vocals underpinned by brooding guitars and dark percussion. It’s a slow, melancholy build-up which is eventually sucked away and replaced by a massive chorus. “Excuse me while I run, I really gotta get outta here” sings Mason, his voice laced with relaxed vibes. From this moment on, the song is all systems go and careering at a faster pace. The massive chorus subsequently returns, with Mason’s eerie backing wails becoming more goosebump-inducing than ever before. The breakdown demonstrates the whole band’s ability to put on a full-force rock demonstration, with Mason’s slightly altered voice intertwining perfectly. When the chorus returns one more time, one thing is very clear – Nothing But Thieves are taking no prisoners; they’re here to take over the world.
BAN ALL THE MUSIC
Ban All the Music is one of the first songs we ever heard from Nothing But Thieves, encompassing a huge, Jack White-esque riff courtesy of Joe Langridge-Brown and pounding percussion courtesy of James Price. “Turn it up louder” declares Mason during the chorus, before the whole band speed up around him and the song becomes almost moshpit-inducing. The chorus is full of the swagger and energy a band well in their prime could only be capable of, something which is a perfect example of the extreme songwriting capabilities this band possess. As the song builds up, the guitars start getting more effects-laden and messy alongside Mason’s wailed vocals. This brief moment of chaos quickly disappears, though, being replaced by an even more powerful chorus. We may have heard this song before, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting to listen to.
WAKE UP CALL
Older track Wake Up Call (which has now been re-released as a single) makes use of chugged guitars and a pulsating bassline (as played by Philip Blake), both of which intertwine and lead into a stadium-ready chorus. It’s the kind of song which is likely to be played continuously on the radio whilst still attracting a more ‘alternative’ crowd, something which Nothing But Thieves are probably aiming to achieve. “No, I won’t give you a wake-up call” sings Mason during the chorus, before the post-chorus solo plays itself out like a heavy dose of euphoria. This is where the whole song comes together and the whole band produces a sound almost otherworldly.
Just like the previous two tracks (and the following two), we’ve heard this one before. Itch opens on jangly finger-picked guitars and more electronic percussion, both of which lead into another absolutely huge chorus. Of the already released tracks, Itch is by far their crowning moment. “I just wanna feel something real” wails Mason during the chorus, the guitars below him sounding monstrous and the percussion sounding cataclysmic. Echoes of early Muse are definitely present here, which makes it no surprise that the Devon trio invited them to play for 35,000 people in Rome. The song’s breakdown is quite literally the type that will get you itching for more, especially as Itch only comes in at 3:24. Second guitarist Dom Craik’s whammy-led guitar solo takes the helm during the breakdown, before Mason’s manic vocals make the whole affair intense. As the song comes to a close, it seems as though the band are showing no signs of slowing down…
IF I GET HIGH
…however, slowing down is exactly what they do. If I Get High, the most recent song to be put out ahead of the album release, originally borrows an intro riff from old EP track Last Orders. Now, though, the song sounds more polished and refined. At times, it screams The Bends-era Radiohead, something particularly audible in Mason’s vocal and guitar combination. “And we run, and we run, and run, until we breakthrough” sings the still pint-sized frontman during the chorus, his vocals echoing a sense of Radiohead’s High & Dry. As the rest of the band join in, the song gains some more substance and everything slowly starts falling into place (pun not intended). Although it’s already quite impressive, things only get better as the song heads towards its climax. Mason quite literally soars vocally, his voice sounding quite unlike any other that we’ve heard this year. It’s all fair and well sounding huge on a recording, but live Mason honestly sounds no different. If I Get High is one of the best songs on the record, as it demonstrates the band’s calmer side whilst still sounding as huge as ever.
Graveyard Whistling is another slower track, and we’ve heard it before. Despite this, though, the song is still quite an experience. In terms of sounding like Radiohead, the band have now progressed through to the In Rainbows-era guitars, which accompany Mason’s eerie voice nicely. The chorus is more mainstream and accessible, hinting slightly towards a poppier/RnB side of the band. “If you don’t believe, it can’t hurt you” sings Mason, before melancholy gang vocals are underpinned by Price’s bubbling drums. “I’m not listening, I’ve heard everything” continues Mason, before the second chorus ever so slightly kicks everything up a notch. As the track progresses, it becomes more and more anthemic, something which you should by now be used to when it comes to Nothing But Thieves. Mason’s altered vocals during the bridge make way for a final chorus, which hits you with added backing vocals reminiscent of a grand church choir which only accepts twenty-something year old males.
Hostage is one of the five unheard tracks on the album, and it opens with an eerie female vocal and ambient feedback noise. Once her voice disappears, the synths and the funk enter the game in a song which sounds nothing like what came before it. Suddenly, Mason’s vocals are heavily altered and Blake’s bass sounds like a 70s disco stomp-machine. “I want you to be happy” declared Mason, with effects-laden guitars sounding like swooshing synths. “Sometimes I feel like a hostage, point it at my heart” continues Mason, before his earlier declaration becomes the choruses focal point. It’s an upbeat whirlwind of a track, and live it’s sure to be absolutely explosive. That this song hadn’t been pre-released isn’t a surprise, because it sounds exactly like the big surprise the Essex lads had up their sleeves this whole time. Hostage is one of the biggest songs on the album, there’s no doubt about that.
Summer release Trip Switch pounces on you with a fuzzy bassline and eerie-sounding riff, both of which make way for Mason’s soulful voice. “What do we do when the power’s out?” asks the frontman during the chorus, the guitars below his voice chugging and whizzing their way through the chorus. The song covers the topic of information exchange and technology, with Mason asking for “more data” because he “needs a hit”. It’s not a topic which many people sing about these days, but Nothing But Thieves have managed to cloak it in a powerful rock jacket which makes everything all the more addictive to listen to. During the breakdown, everything slowly builds-up before exploding in an absolutely massive chorus.
LOVER, PLEASE STAY
Lover, Please Stay is the last song on the album that we’ve heard before, albeit only in a live setting. It’s another slower song, making use of tear-inducing vocals and lyrics. From the off, the song sounds like it can only get bigger and bigger. This is true, but only to an extent. It doesn’t explode into a rock behemoth by any means; rather, it bubbles up and enables Mason to pour his heart out over evocative instrumentation and more Radiohead-esque guitar tones courtesy of Langridge-Brown and Craik (think No Surprises with even more heart and emotion). If you thought that Mason’s vocals couldn’t get bigger than on If I Get High, then you’re wrong. On Lover, Please Stay, Mason outshines the previous eight songs with an extremely heartfelt vocal delivery which sees him soar. It’s hard to think of this band and not think about Mason’s vocals, because this is exactly what makes the band so great. That’s not to say that his bandmates aren’t talented, because they are. They’re the whole package and Mason is the icing on the cake.
This one opens on a shuffling percussion and bass combination, enabling Price and Blake to shine. Mason’s vocals are altered during the first verse, before he sings of being “held back by drawing pins”. The verse is subtle and laid-back, yet the chorus (complete with falsetto) is another banger. It’s big and vibrant, yet it’s probably too short for its liking. The second verse is slightly more upbeat and layered than the first, yet it leads into the exact same huge chorus that we encountered earlier. At this point, both guitars enter the frame in huge style and make for a manic mid-section. The bridge features light acoustics and the occasional guitar stab, before leading into a huge breakdown. Mason asks, “what do I have to do to be loved you?” while the rest of his band put their all into it. The track eventually comes to an explosive close worthy of arenas.
Painkiller, the penultimate track on the album, is upbeat and fiery from the word go as it encompasses a distorted and fuzzy riff from the word go. If there’s one song on the album which will make for crazy pits in the crowd, it’s Painkiller. Mason sings of love being a Painkiller, with his band whizzing around him at lightning speed. Blake’s pulsating bassline and Price’s fast drumming hold the song together here, with the powerful guitars simply posing as a decorative piece. It’s a short track, spanning just two and a half minutes, but what it lacks in lengths it makes up for in non-stop chaos and energy.
TEMPT YOU (EVOCATIO)
12 songs later, Nothing But Thieves’ debut album comes to a close on Tempt You (Evocatio). Subdued pianos and Mason’s light vocal delivery are present during the songs opening section, which slowly but surely builds up as it progresses. Mason asks, “how do I tempt you out of the city tonight?” before a calm drum beat enters the frame. During the second verse, the song builds up slowly and each instrument introduces itself one by one. Halfway through the track everything gradually comes together, with ambient noises taking control alongside frenetic guitar effects and Mason’s soulful wails. With less than a minute of the record left, it doesn’t sound like the album is going to go out on a bang; rather, the album is going out on a melancholic-yet-soulful combination of ethereal effects and proggy undertones.
All in all, Nothing But Thieves’ debut album is an absolute stunner. From Excuse Me’s slow build-up to Tempt You (Evocatio)’s thoughtful closing, the album is full of surprises. Every song touches on anthemic elements at one point or another, in particular during the likes of Wake Up Call, Itch and Trip Switch. Over the course of the album’s 12 songs, Nothing But Thieves leave no stone unturned as they touch on a wide variety of styles – alternative radio rock (all the singles), heartfelt balladry (Lover, Please Stay), electro funk (Hostage) and hard rock (Painkiller) are all thrown into the mix. Alongside this, the album’s four bonus tracks (including the previously released Honey Whiskey and Hanging) also touch on a selection of exciting sounds, serving as an extra treat for diehard fans. If Nothing But Thieves haven’t taken over the world this time next year, then something has gone drastically wrong. This band are the next big rock band that this planet needs, and they’re more than ready to serve up to the challenge.
Nothing But Thieves is out tomorrow via RCA/Sony. Watch the new video for Wake Up Call below.