Thrillers: Break Free (Lights & Music Collective)
In current Top 40 music, the most irritating noise besides the voice of Maroon 5’s Adam Levine is a high-pitched electronic squiggle that resembles Alvin the Chipmunk’s experiments with a glitch-polluted Auto-Tune processor.
This irritant achieved commercial saturation with the 2015 Justin Bieber single “Sorry,” and it heightened the sense that Bieber wasn’t sincerely apologizing. Now, it ejaculates across “HEAT,” the opening track of the first Thrillers album, Break Free, as if it’s a would-be Casanova who’s gotten all his guidance from video porn.
In subsequent tracks, the squiggle—perhaps the anti-innovation of guest production duo Back Talk, anyway, because without it “HEAT” would sound not unlike Squeeze discovering the dancefloor—is comparatively absent, which improves the indie- and alternative-leaning contemporary R&B constructed by Los Angeles-based Greg and Jeremy Pearson.
When another producer, fellow Angeleno soul man Twin Shadow, oversees a song like “NMT” (“Need Me Tonight”), the results have a technological melancholy, as if Thrillers are trying to connect with romance and desire via aging apps, flickering fiber optics and long-overclocked hardware.
Thrillers also get along without such collaborations, even if bigger names still sneak in, as when strong echoes of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” bounce off the electronics of “Can’t Get Enough” or when synthesizer pulses reminiscent of Underworld’s “Born Slippy” introduce an earlier EDM energy into the 21st-century desperation of “Far Gone.”
Pearson and Pearson’s vocals are the most noticeably human elements, usually because, in the slow moan of loneliness on “Lipstick on the Mirror” or the modernity-shellacked R&B classicism of “Strangers,” their lack of harmonic perfection grants something real to clichéd words about love and sex.
That might be the main difference, for Thrillers, between alternative/indie and the mainstream: something real. They could stand to get realer. And to squash the squiggle.