‘Thor and Friends’ Review: Swans percussionist Thor Harris offers unique instrumental treats in début album from new musical trio.
Thor Harris is best known as the percussionist for dark noise rock icons SWANS, currently riding high off their critically acclaimed 2016 release The Glowing Man. But the ever-busy performer switches gears on his latest project, the self-titled release from his new group Thor and Friends (a trio rounded out by Peggy Ghorbani and Sarah “Goat” Gautier). Their début album is an effervescent collection of instrumentals that deftly walks the line between experimentation and accessibility.
Cinematic opener White Sands sets the tone for what’s to follow: mysterious, ethereal and vaguely exotic, it exists in the same ambient universe as early Brian Eno, but using a unique sonic template of marimba, bowed strings and subtle unrecognizable textures.
Thor and Friends is unique in this regard, using organic instruments and sparse arrangements in place of the prominent electronics normally associated with these types of soundscapes: Whose Fingers is another example of the type of playful, alien melodies akin to Aphex Twin, but used in a new context.
Harris, Ghorbani and Gautier are aided in their quirky compositions by a cadre of Austin based musicians (all of whom yield an impressive diversity in instrumentation) including Jeremy Barnes, Heather Trost, John Dieterich and Raven.
Their usage of Harmonica, bone flute, Mellotron, xylophone and organ are just a few examples of other employed sonic elements, with Harris using a wide array of percussion and wind instruments (many of his own creation).
The ghostly Crusades employs a waltz pattern while conjuring desert vistas, while the chiming Slow Prisoner has the soothing presence of a lullaby.
While the album is instrumental in nature, the human voice is used in unique ways, via the hushed chanting in 12 Ate. And while Jordan’s Song is wordless, it has a delicate, emotional potency that feels oddly personal and lyrical all the same.
Thor and Friends is probably the most unusual sounding album you’ll hear this year, working in odd melodic angles and textures with refreshing and soothing results. Given the worldwide stresses of 2016, it seems to have arrived at a perfect time.
Own Thor and Friends on Amazon (and click here for tour dates):