These Curious Thoughts: What Is It, and How Did it Get in There? (2013)

Bio (from thesecuriousthoughts.com):
As modern-day pen pals, Sean Dunlop (US) and Jamie Radford (UK) have utilized the Internet to remain in contact and compose their unique songs for nearly a decade. Being separated by the Atlantic Ocean has had little affect on the productivity of this musical partnership. Radford provides lyrics and inspiration via email for Dunlop who then composes the music. Since 2004, Dunlop and Radford have composed hundreds of songs, and released nearly 10 full length studio albums. Dunlop performs their compositions live with various musicians in the Detroit area; currently with Sean Nasrey (Drums) and Dan Steffy (Bass). In 2006, they won all 3 rounds of the Emergenza Music Festival and received the opportunity to perform in front of a sold out crowd at the Majestic Theatre (Detroit) where Dunlop won best guitarist.

Musicians:
Jamie Radford (Lyrics), Sean Dunlop (Music and Vocals), with Sean Nasrey (Live Drums) and Dan Steffy (Live Bass)

 

This is a really interesting basis for a band. Two guys from opposite sides of the Earth (Detroit and London) meet in Peru and wax philosophical about mound builders and out of this comes a quirky indie band… or, on a more realistic tip, two guys from opposite sides of the Earth meet on the Internet and form and Internet based band. Ok, that’s a little more palatable. Either way, the music that is coming out of this transatlantic collaboration is really interesting, even if their circumstances for formation are not so much. What These Curious Thoughts pretty much consists of is a songwriter and a one-man-band. Radford pens the lyrics and “inspiration” from London and sends it to Dunlop in Detroit who then crafts the songs around the emails he has received. So I guess for this review I need to pretty much split it up into two focuses, one on each of the member’s input.’

Radford (left) and Dunlop (right) in a TCT-like world.
Radford (left) and Dunlop (right) in a TCT-like world.

I’m going to start with Dunlop. I really enjoy this guy’s style. It’s kind of a smorgasbord of decades, starting with a little late 60’s Beatles-esque vibe, some 70’s The Animals, Creedence and Skynyrd (but not quite so southern-fried), some 80’s with The Cars, They Might Be Giants and early R.E.M., and through the 90’s with some (lighter) Mudhoney and Weezer. It’s a big blend of styles that overall can be classified as “rock” but it is hard to put a much more definitive label on it than that. And I like that.

Often times with one-man-band type situations, you have a lot of focus on one particular instrument and the rest of the sonic soundscape is really more just smoke, no real substance. This generally comes from having a guitarist (or a bassist, or a drummer, or a pianist… I’m not here to discriminate by instrument!) that has decided to move into playing other instruments to back up their guitar. What you end up with is music with a good guitar part and that is guitar heavy, and the rest is just that filler to keep it from being a solo performance. WHAT IS IT, AND HOW DID IT GET IN THERE? does not suffer from this affliction. I know live Dunlop plays guitar so I assume that is his primary instrument, but I found all of the music parts on Wii&HDiGiT to be full and well rounded. I was particularly impressed with the drum work on a few various tracks (“John Wayne” “Messed Up” “DNA Bounce”) and with the bass lines on a few tracks as well, though on the whole album Wii&HDiGiT has a very full, well-rounded sound that I did not expect from the one-man-band.

TCT live: Nasrey, Dunlop, and Steffy
TCT live: Nasrey, Dunlop, and Steffy

Now, to the other side of the pond: Radford’s lyrics. This is a funny dude. Not just a funny dude, but he’s got good composition, good song structure, good storytelling, overall he’s just a good lyricist, though a bit on the silly side. His lyrics really stood up and slapped me in the face with “John Wayne,” which went on to be my favorite track of the album for both the lyrics and music. “John Wayne’s feet are coconuts,” starts Radford, “he never needs to use a horse.” That’s surreal and funny, and I immediately assume we’re talking about Western film star John Wayne, but no, Radford switches it up: “My name’s John Wayne, I’m Batman’s brother we don’t look the same / We’ve got a different mother, my name’s John Wayne.” That is some surreal, funny shit. The first time I listened to this song I actually laughed out loud (more than once), and I truthfully cannot remember the last time a song did that. Radford is funny, sure, but he’s also talented at taking your expectations and flipping them on their head while still being witty, and he does all of that in a cloud of surrealism. He also can do the non-silly song, and some of these can actually be touching, like when he writes in “Because She is Love,” “When I am frayed around the edges / she’ll fix me up and take away the pain / Because She is Love / She picks me up when I’m down / and makes me happy when I’m sad.” Incredibly deep? No. Heartfelt? Yes.

Radford doing... oh, who knows.
Radford doing… oh, who knows.

My only issue with Radford is his lyrics are going to limit These Curious Thoughts fanbase. Not to say that’s a bad thing, but like They Might be Giants before them, These Curious Thoughts are going to be limited to just those people that take the time to listen to how funny these songs are, but also have the capacity to get them too. Some of the songs are just surface-funny, some are much more cerebral and take some thought and intelligence to understand what is going on, like “Heavy like a Rock” (with references to Caesar and Brutus, which anyone that completed High School English should know but unfortunately might go over a lot of heads) or “Daughter of Morpheus.” Others go even a bit further into just-plain-weird, like “Brain in a Jar” (and this is not a pun on cerebral). I like weird. A lot of people don’t, and for that very reason you have extremely talented bands like They Might Be Giants or Primus or a list of others that should be much bigger than they are, and I feel that this may be the same for These Curious Thoughts.

Overall, I really enjoyed Wii&HDiGiT. It has a nice blend of a lot of rock sounds into one semi-cohesive somewhat psychedelic indie sound that reminds me of a lot of bands that I like without sounding like it’s copying any of them. It also has some of the funnies lyrics I’ve heard in a long time for songs that are not parodies, and when Wii&HDiGiT is not being funny it actually can be a bit touching. These Curious Thoughts way of creating music is a bit unique as well, and I love when someone sends me something different, and this is different. Very nicely done, guys.

 

Overall 7 / 10

Wii&HDiGiT for sale: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/what-is-it-how-did-it-get/id622781389

Wii&HDiGiT site: http://www.thesecuriousthoughts.com/

These Curious Thoughts: What is It, And How Did it Get in There? (2013)
These Curious Thoughts: What is It, And How Did it Get in There? (2013)
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