Or Not Thibault Marks Nicole Thibault’s Musical Return with Harpsichords Aplenty

Or Not Thibault Marks Nicole Thibault’s Musical Return with Harpsichords Aplenty

Nicole Thibault returns to recording with Or Not Thibault by her group Thibault, crafting a complex and often delightful, arty, synthy album.

Thibault is the new project of artist Nicole Thibault. She’s no stranger to the Australian music scene, as one of the founding members of Minimum Chips, but she hasn’t been seen much as of late. Now she’s back with a new group and a fresh new album.

Or Not Thibault is an eclectic mix of sounds. It feels arty and strange, but it’s fantastic throughout. There’s a great mixture of synthesizer and keyboard sounds combined with some straightforward guitar, bass, and drums. Thibault’s voice, often whispery and airy, sometimes delicate and gentle, adds another layer, subtly shifting the feel of each song. Thibault is joined by Zak Olsen, Rebecca Liston, Lachlan Denton, and Julian Patterson, also formerly of Minimum Chips. The album begins with a playful sound but ends with more mournful, emotionally charged songs, It’s a strange odyssey, sometimes placing you in a strange storybook world, and sometimes placing you in a home, fully facing the everyday troubles and agonies. There’s a lot of textures and feelings, but it all comes together wonderfully.

The album opens with “See the World” and bright synth arpeggios. Drums, bass, and guitar strums layer in with Thibault’s voice floating above all. If the album is a journey through a strange alien world, this track feels like waking up floating amongst a coral reef. It feels mellow and peaceful, but with lush instrumentation and a constant feeling of motion brought by the arpeggios. The song comes to a close with a feeling of contentment.

Before the next track begins there’s a brief snippet of a baby laughing, until the synthy harpsichord of “Centrelink” begins. Another harpsichord melody drops in when Thibault begins singing in a loud whisper. It’s a moment of intimacy before the rest of the instruments arrive and open the song up. It suddenly feels big and echoey, but the song travels quickly and easily between dynamics. The song has a marching feeling, and the brief appearance of a trumpet adds to that. It feels reminiscent of a children’s program in some ways, like the soundtrack to a fairy tale. It’s a strange but fun feeling, at odds with the song’s troubled origin of having an emotionally troubling time at the Australian unemployment office.

“Drama” bursts in with keyboard and guitar, like a ‘60s pop song. Thibault speak-sings “Drama / Is so real / When it comes / Into your world / I don’t know / what it’s like / not to have / Drama in my life” as the bass and drums drive forward. There’s a melodica solo in the middle of the track, and a synth riff backed by some horns later. The track feels both serious and playful at the same time. It captures a retro feeling, but overlaid with modern touches.

Drums and breathy vocals open “Wanting to Be Alone,” and it keeps some of the vintage flavor from the song before. Thibault repeats the lines “I don’t want to talk about it” and similar sentiments throughout the song. There’s a droning quality, like the song is trying to drown out the sound of someone else. It starts off feeling bright, but there’s a sense of darkness as the song goes along. This track retains the serious/playful juxtaposition, but it definitely trends towards the serious side.

“Compontential” is an instrumental interlude. With intertwining guitar riffs supported by an active bass line over drums and a synth drone, it’s a short track. But it packs some emotion in its brevity. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it makes me think of persevering. Maybe the middle of a long journey when you have to just keep going.

“Continuer” opens with an organ and a clicking beat with a hint of cymbals. Bass and some dramatic drums layer in next, and the song feels like a dramatic, theatrical opening. The “aahs” from the members of the band heighten that feeling, and the song continues to build before following a melody set by a synth and guitar, never losing the drama. The track feels almost like a strange ritual, some bizarre magical presentation, but it’s got a great sound: sometimes theatrical, sometimes just grooving.

After some instrumental pieces comes “Chatty Cathy” with some fun wordplay. A slow start with kick drums, tapped cymbals, and gentle synth gives way to Thibault’s voice at just above a whisper, “Debbie Downer / Bossy Betty / Chatty Patty / Chatty Cathy / Babbling Brook / Negative Nancy / This is the club / You are all Welcome.” The song has a reserved playfulness, fed by some little horn interludes. Thibault’s voice stays kind, even as she goes on to sing, “Welcome to here / Welcome to Hell / Please take a seat / We wish you well / You shouldn’t speak / You should just listen / When will you learn / Life’s little lesson?” Some gentle clinking of bells feel so sweet, but there’s unease as the song continues without lyrics to the end. An organ emerges and then fades until all that’s left is the kick drum, beating like a heart. It’s a fascinating song that feels simultaneously fun and sinister .

The next track, “Late Expectations,” opens with a brief, funky synth beat before the rest of the instruments burst in. They’re driving forward forcefully with Thibault’s placid voice layered on top. The track never hesitates, adding new sounds, like hand drumming, crunchy guitar, and feedback. There’s a feeling of powering through despite uncertainty, like a car that keeps driving on even though the driver may be full of doubt. As the vocals drop out and you’re mostly left with the keyboard beat, the uncertainty seems to be stronger. The song ends abruptly with a cowbell clank and fading echoing synth sounds. 

“Spanakopita” opens with organ and bass, and when the drums kick in, the guitar and synth begin dueling and intertwining melodies. When Thibault isn’t singing, some great work takes her place. The song ambles along casually, but there’s a feeling of tension. The lyrics hint at a struggle, but remain vague:

“You’ve been making Spanakopita

For the first time in a while

I can see your old self again

Something came and made you smile”

There’s a sense of unease, conflict. Thibault’s gentle voice doesn’t give much away, but the guitar solos feel like internal turbulence buried under a happy mask. There’s a whole story in this song that’s hinted at, but the conflict bears its face at the end. The final guitar strums give way to discordant organ sounds, a disconcerting ending.

But that’s quickly swept away by chirping synth and big echoey drums that begin “Treasure Trove.” The spritely pace and instrumentation feel reminiscent of an oompah band, especially when the horns come in. A steady harpsichord keeps the pace up, and faint echoes of someone calling “2, 3, 4” in the background every so often give this one a cyclical feel. Different instruments come in and out, including various percussion and occasional strings. It feels reminiscent of a street fair or some active city square.

Some funky beats return for “Later Expectations,” but this one isn’t so driving. It feels more set in place, echoing outwards. A variety of percussion sounds join the electronic beats that provide a base for Thibault’s voice. The song gets moving with a bass line that sounds almost 8-bit and some driving drums, but they fade out for Thibault’s voice to return. There’s a dreamlike quality to her voice and the song as a whole. The song seems to carry off into the distance, with an assortment of percussion sounds fading in as the synth riff fades out. It’s a track that feels like floating in the clouds before gently descending back to earth.

The ambient wind chimes feed right into the next song “Moody Ghost” and fade when the organ begins. Thibault’s voice shows a real vulnerability in this dark and moody track. The layers of organ and synth create a solemn atmosphere, and the piano and the lyrics in the chorus verge on spooky: “I’m not your enemy / Please just be friends with me.” But that eerie feeling fades with the next verse, as what sounds like a child’s xylophone accompanies Thibault’s voice:

“At the end of the day

I’m not always okay

Can you ask in that way?

Can you ask me to stay?”

Thibault sings on the album often at just above a whisper, but this track feels so open, full of hurt and trying to recover. The wind chimes return for the outro with a synth riff and ambience slowly fading to bring the song to a close.

Sounds of waves come in just as the last song ends and bridges the gap to the final track on the album, “Too Much Time.” Multiple flavors of synth and organ play a great riff throughout the song, as the child’s xylophone fades in and out. With a somber beginning, Thibault tells a story of loss through the lyrics. It’s about being aware of an absence and the pain that brings along, while also singing, “But it’s too late / Too late for me and you.” It’s a haunting, devastating song at times, but there’s a sense of survival and perseverance as well. The horns that return in the latter half of the song aren’t boisterous, but they refuse to be entirely somber, as the song fades out, with faint sounds of birds in the background.

With her return to recording, Nicole Thibault and her companions have crafted an intensely multifaceted and fascinating album. It has a little bit of everything. The album as a whole manages to be playful, mournful, cheerful and magical. At times it feels like you’ve gone on a journey into a whole new world , and other times you can feel the pain and tragedy that lives within a home. The album has a whole lot to offer, and it gets better each time you listen.


Top Photo by Jamie Wdziekonski

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