They Fear Us by Ithaca: Favorite Albums of 2022
This throwback sounding album defies time periods with its power.
I feel like I’m testing your patience as I continue to tell you about the best things I listened to this year. Ithaca are a U.K. metalcore band featuring a ferocious singer named Djamila Boden Azzouz. And she knows just how good she and her band are. I was doing some additional research and came across an interview with her in The Guardian, where she says, “This record shows such a level of creativity and finesse that a lot of people who make the kind of music that we make are just not on our level,” declares the singer on a video call from her Berlin home. “A fact’s a fact.” Go read the whole thing. It’s phenomenal. But I’m here to talk about the music, mostly.
When my friend Andrew initially told me to listen to Ithaca, I thought it sounded anachronistic. It takes a few listens to get it out of your head that this isn’t a throwback from the early 2000s or late 90s. This band’s songs could have crushed back then, and the production on this record is so super clean that it almost feels like it’s generation-less or someday will be timeless, but to me, it was kind of jarring at first. Once I learned to trust the record a little bit, it would turn my head as I was listening to it. It’s one surprise after another, especially at the end, but we’ll get there. Let’s start at the beginning.
The band hits you with a strange lo-fi production trick to begin They Fear Us, on the track “In the Way.” It sounds all tinny, and then it’s like they went from playing it on the tiny little phone speakers to the big Soundsystem in the living room. The vocals are direct and brutal.
It's not a job, it's a service
And I get paid in satisfaction
It's not desire, it's purpose
Feeding off the chain reaction
I take your calls in the bathroom
So that no one can hear
And wash your blood down the sink
'Cause we don't keep souvenirs
Let me repeat. “And wash your blood down the sink because we don’t keep souvenirs.” Eyeball popping emoji. And then this screaming banshee with literal bloodlust in the lyrics delivers a beautiful, melodic vocal line for a chorus. It’s this contrast along with the chunky guitar riffs accented by blaring harmonics, that draws you in and keeps you listening. They’re not just a standard metalcore band and as you read in the interview, they fucking know it.
The band is Azzouz on vocals, Will Sweet, and Sam Chetan-Welsh on guitar. James Lewis on drums, and Dom Moss on bass. I don’t normally comment on bands’ looks, but the way Dom Moss stalks around stage with his bass, he looks like a jobber boxer from Mike Tyson’s Punch Out or something. The band’s live presence is just phenomenal to watch on Youtube videos and I hope to be able to see it live and in person for myself someday.
This brings me to “The Future Says Thank You.” This is one of the very best songs on an album full of awesome songs. I put the live video above, but you need to hear the studio version as well. It’s just phenomenal how they move the riffs around in your ears to go along with the vocal harmonies. It helps build the kind of contrast this band plays off of in every phase of their songwriting. Strong and vulnerable. Pretty and ugly. Clean and dirty. It’s always opposite day on an Ithaca album and we’re all better for it.
“They Fear Us,” and “Cremation Party,” are really great tunes as well. “Number Five” is some of the most interesting guitar work on the album. “Florescent” might sneakily be the best and most accessible song on the album. “You Should Have Gone Back” is strong enough to be the album closer, but Ithaca is on another level.
The band ends a song called “Hold, Be Held” that will confuse you. My friend didn’t warn me about this one at all, but he couldn’t wait for me to get there and hear my reaction to it. My reaction? It sounds like it could have been on the same album as Vanessa Williams’ “Save the Best For Last.” It’s an 80s pop radio hit, albeit with some heavier guitars. I can even hear the Casio keyboard hand claps in the background on every other snare hit. The song’s refrain, is “There it goes. When will I heal?” over and over again. It’s completely out of left field, but also just a perfect way for a band that defies convention to end an album of brutal, grinding music.
I can’t wait to see what Ithaca does next. What a surprising find.
Please listen to it.
Love this writeup! Well done. This was #2 on my list, and it was a HARD debate for me. I was so close to putting it number one. For all of the reasons you wrote about above.