Back in 2000, a little album called "When We Were Young" by a group calling itself Dusted appeared on the electronic music scene. Critically acclaimed, the downtempo concept album conceived by Faithless' Rollo Armstrong and Mark Bates was never really intended for mass appeal and it's gone down as an under-appreciated gem and, in my book, an electronic music classic. The two revisited the concept in 2005, re-recording the album as "Safe From Harm" with vocal help from Rollo's sister Dido, but it seemed a pointless release and the magic clearly was contained in the original. "When We Were Young" was one of those albums that didn't need to be re-done, it was perfect as is.
Rollo of course has played a major role in a number of hugely successful acts starting with his band Faithless, one of the best selling electronic acts in the world, writing and producing for his sister Dido and remixing and producing countless other acts including Moby, Pet Shop Boys,Tricky, U2 and Sarah McLachlan to name just a few. He already is involved with one project I've been raving about to anyone who will listen, producing One eskimO's forthcoming album (read my glowing review here). Now there is a second project on the horizon poised to produce another instant electronic classic. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce to you All Thieves.
A few tracks from this project first showed up on Rollo's MySpace page early this year, credited to an artist called Kinch. It was obvious the male vocalist on them was Kristian Leontiou, the main man behind the One eskimO project, but there was no other information on what exactly Kinch was. At some point the name of the project was changed to All Thieves, more than likely because there is an alternative rock band from Phoenix called Kinch. Buzz started generating in April when All Thieves' "Turn And Turn Again" was heavily featured on an episode of ABC's hit series "Grey's Anatomy". A video for one of the tracks featured on Rollo's MySpace, "Dexter" comprised of nothing but scenes from the Showtime series, also made the rounds on various blogs, music sites and YouTube.
With this mysterious project starting to generate interest some light has finally been shed on All Thieves. In July, Mark Bates posted on Dusted's MySpace blog that All Thieves was essentially a new name for Dusted. But with such a different sound and vibe to the tracks, he and Rollo wanted a new name to attach to the project. They can call it whatever they'd like, after one listen to the finished, and as of right now unreleased, album "We Are All Thieves", I can call it a number of things such as brilliant, stunning and one of the best electronic releases I have heard in years.
The album opens with the aforementioned "Turn And Turn Again", a beautiful introduction for what is to come. Bailey Tzuke handles the female vocals on the album and delivers a vulnerable performance here. It's no wonder after appearing on "Grey's Anatomy" this song generated so many posts on message boards asking 'Who sang that song and how do I get my hands on it?' There's a minimalist approach to production on the track, utilized on numerous songs on the album to perfection. A bouncing electronic drum beat, sad, lone organ lines and keyboard fills accompany Tzuke's delicate vocal, an absolutely gorgeous track.
One eskimO's Kristian Leontiou does indeed handle the male vocals for All Thieves and he makes his first appearance on the second track, the much more upbeat "Only Of You". The album's first single, this version has been updated from the more sparse original that was up on MySpace, with string runs bringing a more disco feel to the track. Leontiou's damn near Barry Gibb-like falsetto adds to the infectious, funky, yet still minimal, atmosphere. A completely different direction from the opener.
Leontiou's performance on the next track is a far cry from the falsetto of "Only Of You". "Dexter" is a foreboding, menacing track with a dark, slightly electronically altered vocal that seems inspired by the TV show which shares its name. The light hearted mood of the previous track leaves you an unsuspecting victim of this track's tale of a stalker reciting his prey's mundane daily activites before entering her home ("and you think that I don't know/when your front door closes...") and apparantly killing her ("Before the day has begun/we will lie in silence knowing what I have done/and as I leave the house alone/the front door closes..."). Each verse is followed by a disturbed electronic voice repeating "I want to feel...what you feel" to creepy effect. It sounds insane, yet it not only works, it may be the best track on the album. Can a song be both disturbing and beautiful? The verses are wonderfully melodic and the darkness of the track provides a brilliant contrast.
Tzuke returns for the next track, "Pity The Lovers", a needed reprieve after the shocker that is "Dexter". She delivers another restrained vocal performance over a minimal backing track that at first resembles the album's opener but adds lovely strings to this examination of love and its challenges.
Tzuke sings lead on one more track on the album, the more uptempo "Barney" while Leontiou handles the main vocals on two more songs, the chilled out "We Will Be Dust" and soaring stunner "Stars" which has Tzuke on backing vocals. "Marybelle's Poem" opens as a spoken word piece boasting "A little drinkin', skinny dippin' and lotsa guns" before kicking into minimalist keyboard as the song slowly builds with electronic effects and samples. A mostly instrumental piece over eight minutes long entitled "My Philosophy" closes the album with a little bit of everything featured throughout. Sparse organ and keyboards, electronic drum beats, strings and effects rising into the mix, then dropping out. It's a fitting summary of what you've just heard.
With All Thieves, Armstrong and Bates shatter the perception electronic music is not emotionally engaging enough or has lost its soul. This is a work of a group of artists at the top of their game. The production is astounding, I have not heard a CD this tailor made for headphone listening in a long time. The music swirls in and around your head taking you on a trip you truly will not forget. Vocally, lyrically and musically, I have not been this blown away by an electronic album in ages. All nine tracks are excellent, there is no filler to speak of and it is extremely varied. A masterpiece.
Until "We Are All Thieves" is released, you can stream a number of the tracks on these MySpace pages:Bailey Tzuke on MySpace