General 2-8-2003

Multitudes: If Thousands

Tim Anderson conveys the essence of two new releases by If Thousands, one of the most interesting ensembles in the state.


If Thousands, makers of deeply wonderful sound/music, is a group from Duluth consisting of Christian McShane and Aaron Molina. They have released two new CDs: “Yellowstone” on Chairkickers’ Music; and “Lullaby,” on Silber Records. Tim Anderson reviewed these CDs for the Ripsaw News, a rich and strange essential tabloid published in the Zenith City. We reprint this review by permission of the Ripsaw powers that be. Visit them at

To paraphrase Walt Whitman: If Thousands is vast, they contain multitudes. That’s a lot to be said for two guys, let alone the two guys who compose If Thousands. Admittedly, they don’t look like they’re anything special. If Thousands oftentimes has the stage presence of mannequins, and songs are often forgone for improv free-for-alls (not that most listeners can tell the difference anyway).

But If Thousands are top-rate purveyors of large, dynamic sound. They can sound like an orchestra, filling a room with a beautiful noise only to bring it down to a whisper. Their newest release, “Yellowstone,” both reaffirms this and offers whole new angles to the time-honored If Thousands formula of noise + texture = song. The album was recorded at Sacred Heart, which offers itself as an unwitting co-conspirator in If Thou’s spacey, ambient sound—the vast sweeping spaces of the old church echo and reverb in exactly the right spaces.

The album begins with the title track, which was first released as a live version on the shamefully unnoticed EP IO. While shorter than the IO version (at 12 minutes), If Thousands slowly crawls out of the silence toward a lush, organ-driven crescendo. Next, they manage to out-brood Joy Division on the cover of “Isolation,” (on record, one of Ian Curtis’ goofier moments). The pace is more glacial than the original, slowed to 1/8 speed and almost overwhelming in its rich tone and sweeping noise. The listener will here notice a new aspect to If Thousands: vocals. It works well for them, and they are careful not to overuse this new tool: it appears on only four songs. The instrumentals, as always, are the strongest part of the album. The best of these is “Your Weight.” At just under four minutes, it climaxes dramatically before gliding into silence. Overall, the album is a perfectly balanced package of concise instrumentals and more conventional songs, and there is no question that If Thousands has produced their first masterpiece.

The perfection of “Yellowstone” begs the question of how to follow it up. Well, If Thousands have saved themselves the trouble by releasing yet another album in parallel with “Yellowstone.” Recorded before the Chairkickers’ release, “Lullaby” is another window into the collective mind of If Thousands. Think of it as an ambient symphony in ten parts. The liner notes state that the music is intended to “induce & aid in slumber,” though this is certainly not the only setting it is appropriate for. This is music to calm the mind, if given full attention. Call it “music to think by.” This is an Eno-esque, ambient sound piece that is oceanic in scope and quality, much like sleep itself. Like a dream, the piece is elusive and mysterious. Sounds move in and out of the speaker, disappearing and reappearing over the one-hour time span of “Lullaby.” Ghostly voices appear, speak cryptic phrases that repeat themselves and wander back out into the fog. This, like other pieces of music based around a drone, tap into a universal sound: the sound of electrons rotating, the planets spinning, neurons firing, the mind thinking, the sound of one hand clapping. Pioneering avant garde composer La Monte Young called drone forms “Dream Music,” stating, “the drone is the first sound. It lasts forever and cannot have begun but is taken up again from time to time until it lasts forever as continuous sound … ” This work is part of that tapestry of sound that was picked up for a brief period of time and will continue on for an eternity. When this review stated that If Thousands was vast, it was no overstatement. These two releases are proof.