May 2, 2016


Thursday's Most Absolute Album: 'A City By The Light Divided' Turns 10


Thursday operates with a certain ostracized pointedness. Whether the band likes it or not (we wager they didn't), their sound was always entrenched in the emo/screamo post-hardcore scene of their native New Jersey, from their inception to the present. They grew weirder, but that title—and its sister stigma—continued. 

It's unfortunate, because they made some really incredible records. Regardless of whatever critical derision occurred or remains (we recommend unpacking this mess of a review), the albums speak for themselves. It's why we couldn't be more excited for their recently announced mini-reunion, and it's why we can't believe their most absolute album, A City By The Light Divided, turns 10 today (May 2).

A City By The Light Divided came to frontman Geoff Rickly in a dream. It's something of emo folklore now: In the subconscious state, he envisioned a passage from favorite poet Octavio Paz that didn't actually exist. He woke himself up, wrote down the phrase, and an album title was born. The entire scene seems a bit more high-brow than this particular post-hardcore universe would allow, and that's kind of the point: Thursday has always been the odd one out, valuing songs about literature and politics over themes of unrequited crushes and girl-hate. 

Within that scope, too, they managed to evolve. It's worth noting that the album before ACBTLD was 2003's War All The Time, its name taken from a mediocre, misogynistic collection of Charles Bukowski poems. A City By The Light Divided features the delicate "We Will Overcome," which paraphrases "Strange Fruit." In the modern era, we probably view it as appropriative; back then, it felt like Rickly and crew were reading into some more complicated, emotionally wrought text.

Of course, lyricism only goes as far as the music that carries it. There are some obvious marks in A City By The Light Divided that make it stand out within Thursday's discography. Rickly started working with a vocal coach and sings on the majority of the album (in the past, he was famously a screamer—it's a long way from his nickname of "Tone Geoff" during the band's earliest days). Recently added keyboardist Andrew Everding played a more seminal role in the writing process, as the songs maneuver around synth lines in ways they hadn't before. They worked with an all-star indie rock producer, David Fridmann (The Flaming LipsSleater-Kinney) instead of scene staple Sal Villanueva (Taking Back Sunday). 

The reason for all the change didn't appear to be environmental pressure, but the fact that the band finally had a chance to explore who they were and what they wanted. They spent three years on the album, not because they asked for it, but because it sounds like they would have died without it.

In 2004, Thursday visited Australia for the first time and ended up in a plane crash alongside tourmates Poison the Well. They survived, but the trauma lives on in songs like "At This Velocity," wherein the band details the very real anxiety of anticipating death before it arrives, a particular space of inaccurate inevitability. In concert, the band often told the story of their crash and subsequent survival, usually with a joke added in to lessen the blow: the last movie that aired before all systems shut down was the Haley Joel Osment Disney flick Secondhand Lions, one they refused to be the last thing they saw before their demise. 

A year after the crash, it became common knowledge that Rickly was taking medication for epilepsy. For months, he was having an allergic reaction to the pills and suffered abdominal pain due to internal stomach bleeding. Health, it seemed, was not on his side.

That's why it's especially strange that the pain that dominates A City By The Light Divided is narrative, not physical... and when it is bodily, it's about someone else. "Counting 5-4-3-2-1" recalls the tale of one of Rickly's childhood friends getting hit by a train (automotive mayhem is a regular theme that appears throughout Thursday's catalog). At other moments, it's a celebration of spirituality, one that makes sense for a guy confronted by death in multiple ways: "Sugar in the Sacrament," "Into the Blinding Light," "We Will Overcome," and so on.

The year following A City By The Light Divided, Thursday released Kill All The House Lights, a CD/DVD of live songs and a short documentary detailing the band's journey. In one scene, the late A&R powerhouse Craig Aaronson, the man responsible for bringing this sort of music to the mainstream (signees include Jimmy Eat WorldCoheed & CambriaLess Than Jake, etc.) is seen talking about his work with Thursday. He turns to the camera and, before detailing the group's failing relationship with major label Island/Def Jam, says, "They were supposed to be the next Nirvana." It seems all but prophetic that in an interview with Noisey last year, Rickly said someone at his label told him after surviving the plane crash, "Too bad you didn’t die, you’d be huge!"

Looking back, it never really seemed like Thursday were supposed to be as big as, say, brother band My Chemical Romance. They were a bit too aggressive, too controlling, too steeped in their own confusing realities to make something that would translate on pop radio. What they did do was write a few really incredible records, the kind that people connect to for the rest of their lives. A City By The Light Divided created division between what it was and what it wanted to be, how people perceived it and how people wanted to perceive it, which makes it exciting to think about and dissect, even now. It's a good thing they didn't die.

Make sure to revisit this vintage Fuse clip, wherein the band details A City By The Light Divided on now-defunct program The Daily Download below.