Own It or Disown It: #250: Thrice, The Illusion of Safety


Thrice's breakout second album turned fifteen years old this week. How does it hold up?

Michael Bay’s films aren’t obvious fodder for study. They’re mostly bad films, for starters, and not uniquely bad films at that, all suffering from underwritten characters conveyed through bad performances held against the backdrop of garish visuals that occasionally threaten to overload the audience with information. It turns out, though, that his degree of garish overload involves a lot of unconventional technique that is respected amongst some people who make movies. His projects aren’t taught in film schools, but there’s something to the way he presents a captured image that resonates with filmmakers who understand what has to happen behind the camera in order to replicate what he shows off. Here’s an effective video essay on the subject, in case you’re skeptical.

I’m not sure if Thrice’s music has received a similar reception, but there’s definitely more going on with this album than a cursory listen suggests. A first listen had me going “Welp, this is quite a lot of guitar noodling and screaming”, but it turns out that Thrice’s brand of guitar noodling is tougher to accomplish than I initially gave it credit for. The tab sheet for this album reads like a coded CIA message, a wall of numbers and letters that communicate that what I had initially interpreted as improvised playing was actually meticulously thought-out, written, and laid on record and played exactly as exhibited on record night after night while touring to support the record. There’s shifting time signatures and crazy chord progressions and an expectation of frenetic play that leaves me genuinely impressed at how well it is formed.

That being said, a Michael Bay film is still a Michael Bay film, and an album with a whole bunch of guitar noodling and screaming is still Thrice’s The Illusion of Safety. There’s craft here, no doubt, but just because a lot of work went into creating the art doesn’t mean the art is good, and what’s here is a whole bunch of hard chugging typical of post-hardcore acts of the early Aughts whose best moments are the shorter tracks that end just when it is about to get good. No shade towards anyone who loves this album for the craft behind it, but if I don’t get anything out of the music, I’m not about to change my mind on it just because it was really difficult to make.


Read past editions of Own It or Disown It.