by EJ Coleman
If you were around in the summer of 2014, you already know of the indie wunderkind Bleachers. The newest musical project of Fun.’s guitarist Jack Antonoff, Bleachers is a pop project that’s been in the works for a while. Apparently, it’s been an almost secret venture where Antonoff wrote songs while on tour with Fun. and showed very few close friends and family. Those songs, which he describes as an attempt to convey the sound of his life, came together as the album Strange Desire that July. Described as “a pop star a mother could love,” Antonoff and his band have taken advantage of Fun.’s hiatus and toured the country in support of the album.
Terrible Thrills, Vol. 2 is the most recent “attempt” of Antonoff’s. A reference to Rocky Horror Picture Show and a continuation of an assumed abandoned project, Terrible Thrills, Vol. 2 is the all-female cover album of Strange Desire featuring artists like Charli XCX and MØ. Released September 25th, the album is available for free on YouTube, which was important to Antonoff as he wanted those who heard the original album to be able to have this deeper look into the songs.
Steel Train, one of Antonoff’s even earlier bands, started the tradition in 2010 with Terrible Thrills, Vol. 1 and Scarlett Johansson and Tegan & Sara amongst others. Terrible Thrills is a project independent of projects, a way to connect how Antonoff hears the songs in his head with a female voice to how the audience hears them on the album and at the shows. Vol. 2 is the “final chapter” of Strange Desire, recorded even as they were on tour.
Some songs are existing background tracks with new vocals emailed on the road, some done in the studio with Antonoff, some complete reinventions. Antonoff summed it up in his Facebook post announcing the album.
[T]he collection is completely bizarre thing for me to listen to because it feels so personal as to how i write. it feels like the part of my process that I’m supposed to keep to myself or something and hearing it in headphones is utterly strange and wonderful.
Sia turns “Like A River Runs” into a slow ballad that really conveys the lyrics of how, “I woke up thinking you were still here, my hands shaking with regret.” Under Lucius’s direction, “Wake Me” transforms into a 1960’s doo-wop feeling slow dance. We trade in Strange Desire‘s features of Grimes and Yoko Ono for Sara Bareilles and Susanna Hoffs (of The Bangles, I had to look it up too), and we get them in more prominent roles, but Vol. 2 gives us a fresh perspective on songs we’ve come to love.
While some of the differences in the originals versus the covers are more noticeable, like entire stylistic or lyric changes, sometimes the subtle ones are just as impactful. “Who I Want You To Love”, the album’s finale, originally closed with one of the many snippets of voicemails and conversations strewn through the album, this time of Antonoff’s girlfriend’s sister talking about graduating college. “I wanna be grateful for the experiences that I’ve had,” repeats over and over as the song draws to a close, but with Vol. 2 we hear Antonoff himself continue the monologue.
“But sometimes I don’t know how to separate things that I run so fast towards the future, that I left too much in the past, because I’m so afraid of taking too much with me and becoming a complicated person with all this baggage from the past that maybe I run too fast cuz I just wanna be grateful for the experiences that I’ve had.”
With this album, we feel that gratitude. Vol. 2 is a love letter to its own songs, yes, but also to the journey that Bleachers has been. Jack and his band have been touring almost constantly since the album was released almost a year and a half ago, and it’s hard to ignore how grateful they are. Jack is back in the studio to record the second album and Terrible Thrills, Vol. 2 is a farewell to Strange Desire and a thank you to it as well.