“SOLDIERS OF LOVE” 01-16-13 PORTLAND, MERCURY
FOR THEIR third album, Themes have pulled back the curtain on a sound that could once be described as somber. Accordingly, Loveweapons is filled with light; it’s a loud, brash, celebratory record, and a terrific one at that. While its eight songs sound no less dramatic than Themes’ 2007 album War over the Great Plains or 2011’s The Phantom, Kelsey Crawford and Jacy McIntosh have turned their songs—which could previously seem at times like a conversation between them outward at the world. Songs like “Get By” and “I Would Die for You, Let’s Sing!” are celebrations of hope and gratitude, but more importantly, they’re the most inviting and welcoming music the duo has made yet.
“We had written about half of the songs and played a few of them on the road,” says McIntosh of Loveweapons, which they recorded with producer Brandon Eggleston. “So there was a good mix of things that had been road-tested and not—because I always go back and forth on the validity of playing something on the road until it’s just muscle memory being performed on a tape, or if it’s a creative process captured in the studio that becomes something where you get to experience the ideas happening as we do. So it’s a little bit of both of those worlds, which is cool, because I feel like we did consciously make the decision to make a rock album. All the reviews of the previous albums were great, but a lot of people would touch on the darker aspects.”
Themes first started making music in Santa Rosa, California, and continued when the pair moved to Minneapolis; McIntosh and Crawford have called Portland home since Election Night 2008. While they have every intention of staying put here, they both admit they sometimes feel more at home on the road than staying in one place. Crawford’s mom traveled for a living and McIntosh grew up in a military family, each resulting in a childhood spent on the move.
“It’s something we’re very accustomed to,” McIntosh says.
“We kind of have that in common,” says Crawford.
“Even when we lived in other cities, we were kind of transient,” says McIntosh. “Lots of touring.”
Crawford adds, “The turning point for me was when Themes first toured as a two-piece. We’d always had a lot of people with us, and there’s something to be said for chemistry with the people you’re traveling with. People just make or break the situation, you know, and you have to have space to be comfortable. But when we toured as a two-piece, we had so much fun. We could really be in the moment.”
“Still, there’s something really magical about the chemistry of a lot of people onstage that nothing can really compare to,” McIntosh says.
To that end, the band’s upcoming Portland show will enlist the help of their good friends Ephriam Nagler and Jen Grady of Olympia band You Are Plural to round out the rhythm section. Noah Bernstein—of tUnE-yArDs and Shy Girls—will also contribute sax, as he did on Loveweapons (Bernstein’s band Grammies is also on the bill). It’s an example of how McIntosh and Crawford have built on the solid foundation of their partnership to foster a community of musicians, both far-flung and at home.
“I have to give Jacy credit,” says Crawford of the band’s beginnings. “He said, ‘The reason I want to do this, and if you’re on board, let’s do this’—because we had started writing music together—he said, ‘I just want a band where we can have our friends play in different cities and come join us onstage, anybody can play. His main thing was to have fun, basically, and enjoy the company of our friends that are also musicians. And I love that idea, because as much as I’m still friends with my old bandmates from previous bands, they didn’t always have that really positive attitude—it seemed more competitive. And we were just not about that. I think that’s why I like Jen and Ephriam so much, because as a couple, too, they said one of their favorite things about working with other people is that we all want to see our friends succeed.
Willamette Weekly, Portland, OR. 12-14-2011
Portland Mercury 12-14-11
Themes is a band that requires your attention. Though this hallowed musical synthesis between Kelsey Crawford (keys, vox) and Jacy McIntosh (guitar, vox) began in the Bay Area in 2005 and has since entertained multiple sojourns to Minneapolis, it seems the duo (joined by drummer Nick Dayka) has found a tidy home in our fair city, and graces us with their presence in between lengthy tours with nationally renowned acts. The self-described “fractured post rock” group’s most recent album, The Phantom, was produced by Carcrashlander’s Cory Gray and is nearly as daunting as their tendency for textual yelling; it’s unspeakably dark, but in its eight-song duration, it manages to clear the brush from those slovenly places in your head to make way for more lucid thoughts before it swallows you whole. -RAQUEL NASSER
MONTEREY WEEKLY 12-06-2011
Playing with the likes of Fleet Foxes, Le Tigre and Black Flag to name a few, Themes is a feel-good story of a couple who just wanted to move with their music and remain unconstrained. For 13 years that is exactly what Kelsey Crawford and Jacy McIntosh have done. Working with countless friends and musicians they’re haunting and fractured sound has found its place in the present.
PORTLAND MERCURY 09-01-2011
The folks over at Daytrotter know their stuff when it comes to quality music. That’s probably why they regularly have Portland bands featured on their weekly Sessions. This week, Rose City is represented by Rustic Balladeers Themes, who build a somber and stoic set list of a full five songs, a much darker shade of Americana . Check out a track and head over to Daytrotter for the full Sessions. – CHARLIE SWAMNSON
The good and the bad relationships, the ones that end in ugly fights and breakups and the ones that end in marriage (happy or otherwise) have their points of skepticism, those iffy gray lands where everything’s out on the table and you’ve got to make a move to one side or the other. Right there, in those moments there’s a period of consideration, a think for the Great Think. It’s a rattling around of options, the choices weighed and the decision to take a plunge or to just start swinging and kicking, turning tail and running as fast as you can to get to somewhere else immediately. It hardly matters how much it will hurt, who will get hurt, etc., for what’s best for you is what’s best for you and it always will be. It’s consistently the driving force. Themes’ new record, “The Phantom,” features a house on-fire on its cover, with a front yard dotted with grazing buffalo. The music that Jacy McIntosh and Kelsey Crawford put on it seems to be the work of poisoned air, of stale air that’s getting sucked deeply into the lungs by everyone living in it. It’s like waking up and finding oneself surrounded by a smoky, burning house and not panicking for there’s been a recognition that this moment was possible and has been possible for some time. As a matter of fact, now that they think about it, that smoke was there when they went to bed. It’s been in the room for the last week, the last month or the last year. They’ve said goodnight to it right after they brushed their teeth and right before they tucked the kids in for the final time every night for so long now that it feels so much like the normal that they’ve always known. But that poisoned air is bad, that smoke is bad. It will, eventually, take over and kill them. McIntosh and Crawford write into their music this feeling of finally getting to a point where something has to be done. All of the red-cheeked thrashing and pounding has been replaced with more of a glassy tone, where everyone knows that this can’t go on much longer. It’s walking down a solitary path, needing to finally make it right inside. There are dry mouths and flickering hearts, thumping and shorting out like a light fixture with a catch in its throat. We’re in the middle of our own opera, and no one’s speaking, just watching and trying to figure it all out, waiting for the move, whatever it’s going to be.
Portland, Mercury 12-15-2011
The Phantom, the full-length released last summer by Portland-by-way-of-Minneapolis-by-way-of-Santa Rosa duo Themes, is a haunting, smoky collection of slow-paced torchburners, bearing ghostly arrangements and a male-female vocal dialogue from Jacy McIntosh and Kelsey Crawford. -NED LANNAMANN
ABSOLUTE PUNK . NET 09-01-2011
The members of Themes understand what it is to convey emotion. Each and every track bleeds with personality and atmosphere, creating aural soundscapes that are both beautiful and bleak in their composition. Vocalists McIntosh and Crawford signature delivery styles play off each other well, a sorrowful combination that lives up to the band’s name. Their latest release The Phantom is as thematic as they come, lush and heavy in a way few artists these days can imitate. If you’re in the mood for something with a bit of weight to it, look no further than Themes.
Portland Mercury 11/18/2010
Portland Mercury 9/ 17/ 2010
(Ella Street Social Club, 714 SW 20th Pl) Unless you cut your teeth in the Minneapolis DIY scene, chances are the name Jacy McIntosh means nothing to you. But for Twin Cities alums, and the faithful few that witnessed McIntosh front the jittery post-rock of End Transmission, the man is a bit of a legend. With guerilla tours, self-released records, and about a billion other side projects, McIntosh is a lifer. Themes is his latest and most-grounded venture, a duo created in Santa Rosa, refined in Minneapolis, and now finally settled here in Portland. Along with co-vocalist Kelsey Crawford, Themes create wildly inventive, if not delightfully skewed, ballads for the heavy hearted. Even better is their recent “The Soldier Trade” 7-inch, featuring a B-side remix with rhymes courtesy of backpacking emcee P.O.S., which might be the perfect blend of moody indie rock and fractured hiphop flow. EAC
Stockton Record, 08-09-09 ” An Enticing Duo” – Aaron Davis
PETALUMA, CA, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN, BY GABE MELINE 05-20-08
“Lemme just say first off that when I brought Themes‘ new 7 Inch “I can’t make you believe, It’s not hopeless to survive.” home on Sunday afternoon, I listened to it three times in a row, over and over. It’s that good. Full of optimistic hooks, unifying harmonies, and hopeful lyrics, it’s nothing short of inspiring. It’s the Obama of 7 Inches !!”
PORTLAND, OR, WILLAMETTE WEEKLY BY AMY MCCULLOUGH. 5-21-08
“This guy-girl duo also claims to play “folk rock,” but the songs on its latest full-length, War Over the Great Plains, employ plenty of electric piano and guitar, theatrical vocals and an epic nature that smacks more of post metal than old Americana. (Think Faith No More Videos, and You’ve got the right idea.) Jacy McIntosh’s deep roar of a voice could’ve sound tracked something like Twister, all foreboding and mysterious and intense. Makes sense, then, that THEMES lists “Mother Nature’s random acts of violence” as its only inspiration. Key-tickler Kelsey Crawford, adds loftier, heavenly vocals to all the drama, highlighting the songs’ melodies and saving the THEMES message from suffocating in its own smoldering dark-rock fire.”
CHICO, CA THEMES LIVE @ THE CRUX GALLERY, BY : RYAN PRADO for Synthesis.net
Themes was instantly engaging; McIntosh’s epic vocal bravado laid the groundwork for the multi-instrumentalists in the band to paint lush resonance within highly progressive musical evolutions. Crawford’s lovely key work added lulling repose to what were by and large monolithic hybrids of folk/rock/orchestral-pop opuses, and the result was hugely impressive; the sparkling brows of the Crux audience nodded along with every plotted beat. Find this band and listen to them today.