Album Review: THANK YOU SCIENTIST Terraformer
With their first two LPs—2012’s Maps of Non-Existent Places and 2016’s Stranger Heads Prevail—New Jersey septet Thank You Scientist proved to be the kings of melding high-pitched catchiness, tongue-in-cheek antics, and overwhelmingly advanced yet accessible symphonic mixtures of progressive rock/metal, jazz fusion, and more. Signed to Coheed and Cambria frontman Claudio Sanchez’s Evil Ink Records, Thank You Scientist endearingly veer far more toward virtuosic unpredictability and playfulness than peers such as Closure in Moscow, Good Tiger, and Circa Survive. Thankfully, they outdo themselves yet again on Terraformer, their brand new set. A two-disc whirlwind of contagious hooks and magnificently sporadic and sophisticated instrumentation, it’s a tour-de-force of outstanding musicianship and melodies from start to finish.
Lead guitarist/songwriter Tom Monda describes the band as “a bunch of weirdos making music for weirdos that still care about weird music,” and that certainly remains true. In fact, this distinction is made even more palpable with the addition of drummer Joe Fadem, trumpeter Joe Gullace, and saxophonist Sam Greenfield (all of whom make their debut here). Alongside mainstays Monda, Salvatore Marrano (vocals), Ben Karas (violin), and Cody McCorry (bass), they ensure that Thank You Scientist have never sounded more expansive, varied, and dynamically capricious. As such, Terraformer is their most rewarding sequence yet (even if it takes more listens than usual to fully appreciate).
Thank You Scientist’s main strength is their unshakable knack for constructing music that’s at once formidably intricate and friskily inviting. In a way, they’re the true successor to The Mars Volta—that is, until the duo’s comeback—and nearly every track on this album excels at exemplifying why. Specifically, opener “Wrinkle” is a mostly mellow showcase for exquisite horn motifs on top of mystifyingly irregular rhythmic accompaniments. Thus, it’s a superb introduction to both the new members and the record. Things become more transcendental and programmed with “Birdwatching,” whereas “Everyday Ghosts” is a meticulous synthesis of styles whose nonstop twists and turns are as entertainingly gripping as they are tightly technical. As Terraformer winds down, “Life of Vermin” adds some Latin and European flavor to its acoustic asides and electric madness (including one of Monda’s most simple yet hypnotic riffs to date). Next, “Shatner’s Lament” is a dreamy interlude that evokes tinges of 1950s lounge/swing prior to the rest of the LP continuing its erratic grandeur.
Of course, Marrano’s soaring singing a chief component of Thank You Scientist as well, and he undoubtedly stirs up some superlative moments on this collection. Early on, “FXMLDR” radiates with different renditions of a riveting chorus. Then, his multilayered fervor helping make “Swarm” joyously captivating. Eventually, “Anchor” places his pointed passion in-between softer cascades of stacked sentiments. In contrast, “New Moon” is a gentler and more soulful performance that partially serves to juxtapose the relatively antagonistic and biting deliveries of the closing title track. Just as his bandmates have never sounded more full-bodied and capable, Marrano has never displayed so much range and confidence.
In every possible way, Terraformer is a benchmark for Thank You Scientist. True, there’s nothing as immediately infectious as, say, “Caverns” from their sophomore outing; however, there is still an overwhelming amount of hooks—musically and vocally—that incentivize numerous playthroughs in the midst of the album’s larger-than-life scale. In other words, Terraformer is the septet’s most mature, epic, challenging, and nuanced work thus far, and it’s a must own for anyone who loves catchy songwriting and boundlessly creative and complex arrangements.