I have this theory about music: great musicians tend to congregate around one another. If you see someone who is a musical genius, chances are good that a few of the folks surrounding him or her are also geniuses, although very likely in entirely different forms of music.
Let me give you an example: about two years ago, I discovered a tremendous little band called Eleven. Like so many other wonderful groups, they were my little secret; I couldn't find another single soul who had even heard of them.
So you'll imagine my surprise when, one evening while watching an A&E biography of the late great Frank Zappa, who do I see in one of Z's monstrous gang music sessions, but Alain and Natasha from Eleven! You see, talented people like to be surrounded by other talented people.
So it came as no surprise to me when I found out that Alain Johannes was contributing his signature guitar sound to Gouds Thumb, the debut album from this unbelievably talented band that may just breathe new life into alternative music. (Matthew Sweet also appears on this album, and he's not exactly chopped liver.)
Alternative music rode an initial crest of feigned integrity and honesty, which some artists took as license to forsake musicianship. Suddenly, it was possible for people with terrible singing voices and the inability to tune a guitar correctly to land a million dollar record deal, and to be adored by the youth of America. Fortunately, it looks like the worst may be over.
Gouds Thumb are different. Their songwriting is clever, original and strong, the musicianship is tight, and Connor (I'll allow him the pretentiousness of a single name, since I like them so much), the singer, has a voice worth hearing, and well matched to the material. The buzz surrounding this group has them being compared to early REM, which is high praise by alternative standards. Let me say this: at their very best, REM was never this good.
Songs like "29" and "Beautiful Local" seem like icons of what alternative was supposed to be: unlikely tunes that combined the rawness of the angst being chronicled with a sweet pop-ness, honest in delivery and approach. By comparison to gems like these, the work of money-makers like Nirvana and Pearl Jam seems like a bitter pill, calculated hitmaking.
The great albums of alternative music can be counted on one hand. (Tool, Grant Lee Buffalo, and Toad the Wet Sprocket come immediately to mind.) Gouds Thumb takes it's place right alongside them. If there is any love left in the public's heart for alternative music, and if there is any justice in the world, they will be the next superstars.