"I was sitting at the bar last night," confessed Athens, Ga. scribe John Britt, "and I just couldn't keep my mind focused on the conversation I was having. Not because of the drinks, but because the bartender was playing the Glands' Double Thriller CD yet again...I was in such awe over the quality of the songwriting -- instrumental Brit-pop meets faux-soul meets Stonesy swagger all rolled up like a Guided By Voices that give a shit -- I had to tell somebody how great it was."
If there's a dark heart to Athens, Georgia, then the Glands, with their sly, mysterious and sardonic tunes, have found it. Athens has long been known as a disproportionately hip college town and its signature sounds have been obliquely jangly (as in REM) or radiantly goofy (as in the B-52s). The Glands are a late-night alternative to all that. Put together by guitarist/singer/songwriter Ross Shapiro and drummer Joe Rowe, the results are beyond geography, really. Shapiro and Rowe have been a part of the Athens scene from Pylon's eighties bounce to Olivia Tremor Control's nineties lo-fi, but the pair and their loose collective of musical friends could have been toiling in London or on the Lower East Side. The Glands' influences may be many and wide-ranging, but they will cop to only one: Michael Jackson. For it was Jackson himself, they say, who used the same mixing console for his "Thriller" that the Glands employed for their pointedly named debut, Double Thriller. How the board got to Athens remains unexplained.
Shapiro likens Double Thriller to a photo album of a particular place and time. The place was, for the most part, a new studio across from the legendary 40 Watt Club. The time was often the wee small hours before dawn, when itinerant musicians straggling from the 40 Watt might be looking for somewhere else to go. Out of a makeshift collaboration among friends with unusually wired body clocks came songs crafted in the studio, then a live band that began to play around Athens; the live combo now includes Craig McQuiston on bass, Frank McDonald on guitar, and Doug Stanley on keyboards and lap steel. Finally, a homegrown disc made it official. Shapiro and Rowe initially released Double Thriller on their own; after the Bar None fellas heard it, the Glands resequenced the album and created new cover art for its national release.
Like individual snapshots, each tune on Double Thriller has a palpable personality and a distinct mood. Taken together, they may form a complete picture of life chez Glands; approached one by one, the sounds can be dizzyingly diverse. As yet another Athens writer, Dave Basham, put it: "...the high points are astrally good. From the deep baritone come-on of 'Pretty Merrina' (think the Thin White Duke with pelotas) to the Pixies-like scrawl of 'Welcome To New Jersey' and the rant/rave of 'Free Jane,' the boys can cook. And 'Two Dollar Wine' is pure velvet heaven, with Shapiro and Rowe 'getting on the groove' in a super-sound-of-the-seventies bump and grind."
While college kids slept and the bars were shuttered, Shapiro and Rowe drew in ideas and influences like a radio receiver picking up distant stations during the quiet middle of the night. Call it the sound of being sleepless in Athens.