Ian Thistlethwaite is an irish DIY musician who makes great music influenced by many traditions and genres. Nat Lyon is a fan.
I imagine that at this very moment, Ian Thistlethwaite is sitting in the corner of his house in the remote village of Roscommon in Ireland, writing and recording a new song. Thistlethwaite is a DIY musical diarist, meaning that songs come easily and often. In the best DIY spirit he records these songs using the bare essentials but his musical performance and vivid imagination more than make up for the lo-fi recording. Last August, Ian released a 17 track effort entitled, A Brief Introduction to Ian Thistlethwaite which was followed up just three months later by the release of his latest full length album, Posset. The best part of being a DIY artist is you can release what you want when you want. You can break the rules and Ian Thistlethwaite breaks many rules in the best possible ways.
Posset can be served either as a creamy pudding, or as an alcoholic beverage. It’s an absurd food/drink hybrid and Thistlethwaite mines the absurd on this album. Posset is a collection of 14 songs stamped with Thistlethwaite’s trademark cynicism, dry humor, and imaginative melodies. There are no sentimental songs here (aside from one very traditional sounding ballad L’il Liza Jane/Killekrankie). Overall, Posset is rocking sarcasm at its finest, and it is well written, performed, and engineered.
As a solo DIY artist, Thistlethwaite is unconstrained, and free to do things as he sees best, in this case opening Posset with the 14 minute long song Sick Tune, Mate. This song is a quiet rant regarding the clash of social media and music. For every DIY artist it seems there are a dozen folks trying to help you (for a fee) to promote your music and chase elusive dreams to stardom, or nowhere. Thistlethwaite turns the tables by tossing off many examples of the tricks both artists and scammers use online to promote music. Carried by a great warm and fuzzy riff that repeats for most of the song, Thistlethwaite speak/sings/raps over the top in a deadpan voice. He’s more of a narrator than a singer, dropping lines like “I’ll help you get your mp3s online, I know they’re already online, but no one’s listening .…” with an affect that is both quite amusing and sharply insightful. Actually more than a few of the lines on Posset made me laugh out loud and many made me stop and think.
Ian Thistlethwaite plays all of the instruments on the Posset, demonstrating real ability and range. But it’s the electric guitar that is at the front of almost all of the songs that provides the groove. He has two great signature sounds, bright and brittle and warm and fuzzy, which are used but not abused. Posset is very much (in my opinion) in the post-punk category. Some of the songs dwell near the pop range and a few are great singles that stand well on their own. I Read It In The NME is a semi-sentimental tale about the struggle to find the “new” in new music in the pre-internet age. When kids in rural villages formed their visions and dreams of the outside world through magazines. This is a bright and chimey song with a great chorus. The arrangement provides a slightly off kilter edge to an otherwise pop tune, which is one of Thistlethwaite’s distinctive moves. Dance In Your Garden On Saturday Night and You’re Trying To Steal From The Family provide additional brightness to the album and show influences from Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth, early Bearsuit, The Stooges, and the Buzzcocks.
In Search Of Brian Eno’s Car Keys is a brilliant take on melodic ambient music and one of the most interesting pieces on Posset. While the title promises a work of satire, Thistlethwaite almost manages to out-Eno the man himself. The piano is thoughtfully composed, which plays against a minimal guitar and ambient room sounds. It’s a sparse arrangement, but there is a lot of interesting stuff happening in the mix. This song could be easily mistaken for a homemade Eno demo for a song from either Music For Films or Apollo. While humorous in title, In Search of Brian Eno’s Car Keys is a haunting piece that is extremely atmospheric and well composed. While listening, you can imagine Thistlethwaite huddled in the corner of his room in Roscommon recording the song, and you can just as easily imagine yourself sitting in the opposite corner, listening.
One standout on Posset is L’il Liza Jane/Killekrankie. This song sounds like a traditional Irish folk ballad (Thistlethwaite is also a member of the band Contranym- a group that mashes up traditional folk with electronica). All of the instruments are beautifully played, with the fiddle taking the lead role (Thistlethwaite is an accomplished fiddle player). This song might sound at odds with the other songs on Posset but remember Thistlethwaite is a musical diarist and he is always writing and recording and he’s not locked into a genre. More than anything L’il Liza Jane highlights the breadth of Thistlethwaite’s musical talent.
The challenges and joys of being a DIY artist are often at odds with one another. While Thistlethwaite had total artistic control of the project and produced 14 very personal and accessible songs there were technical challenges in the recording. These are home recordings using the bare essentials and limited to eight tracks. The limitations, however, do not distract from the music they actually contribute to Thistlethwaite’s very distinctive sound and his engineering skills are top notch. In addition, as the recording of Posset progressed, guitar strings broke that could not be easily replaced. By the end of the album melodies had to slightly rewritten to compensate for more than a couple of missing guitar strings. The DIY credo is take what you have and do the most that you can with it. In this respect Ian Thistlethwaite shows real genius. Anyone that can pivot from punk-pop to ambient to traditional folk so easily and authentically shows true talent, and imagination. It is unlikely that Thistlethwaite will fall into a predictable musical rut any time soon, because he writes some pretty sick tunes.