Deceiver – Chris Thile
Sugar Hill Records 3976
Catch a recent Nickel Creek show and you are likely to have mandolinist Chris Thile playing drums or even start belting "Lithium" with affluent rage. While Nickel Creek has flirted with rock, covering Pavement on their sophomore release This Side, Thile has been the one most inspired by say Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or the Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
This makes his solo release, Deceiver, less a surprise, unless you still pine for the acoustic albums he did as a 12 year old — believing he still is 12 — and more a continuation of a theme. Scratch that: the album does represent a drastic step forward filled with electric guitars, sloppy drums, and even funky jazz, but not wholly unexpected given his inspirations.
Which means for the first time, Thile has a released an album which can be judged. His previous solo releases, all acoustic affairs such as his amazing Not All Who Wander Are Lost, existed in their own small category, the musicianship at such a prodigious level, that they became accepted simply on those grounds. No competition or comparisons really existed, except to classical artists whose prowess and compositional strength almost automatically — fair or not — makes the music special.
Gone are the eight minute acoustic tracks that conjure pastoral scenes and cross country trips. In its place are electric guitars and only intermittent acoustic mandolin compositions, "palette cleansers" (or intermezzos) to use Thile's words.
A change which lends itself to comparisons and strong exegesis, none of which the Deceiver exactly survives in its busy, wanking Wilco state. It has an air of self-indulgence, the result of Thile playing every instrument —which at last count was 35. The lyrics, the chord changes, the extreme primal howls of the opening "The Wrong Idea," with its statutory rape verses, all point to a player whose hands and talents are ahead of his mind.
The funky jazz shuffle of "Locking Doors," which features the protagonist from the Nicholson film "As Good as it Gets," serves as a perfect example. Thile changes the tempo, adds esoteric studio effects, trying to shatter the song's structure. Only forcing the following question, "to what good of the song?" The song itself, like others such as the rambling "I'm Nowhere and You Are Everything" aren't strong enough lyrically and lack apostate chord structures for experimentation. There are just scattered ideas, unbound and floating around.
But then again, hearing Thile stretch himself on "Empire Falls" or "On Ice" has its merits. In the future, such tracks could be scribed as the turning point, the beginning; where he transcended freakish talent to become a singer songwriter artist. In general, his lyrics need to settle down. His talents need to open. He needs to stop pressing a ton of shit into a three minute track. Hopefully Deceiver will be his purging and his next release where his talents come to fruition.