LITTLE THIEF – Under The Patio

When Little Thief appeared at the Ramsgate Music Hall on a four band bill towards the end of 2019, they played to fewer than ten people. Regardless of the sparse crowd, they gave the kind of performance deserving of a packed house. With only a couple of digital singles behind them at that time, the set was a great showcase for things to come. For the few people smart enough to be there that night, memories were made watching Rhii Williams approaching the drums in a really rhythmic yet heavy fashion, while frontman Charlie Fitzgerald cranked out fuzzy riffs as if his life depended on it. There was no doubt that Little Thief were destined for future greatness.

The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 ground everything to a halt. The gigs dried up, the band’s record label went bust, and a down but not out Little Thief eventually turned to crowd funding to get their album made. Their debut full length ‘Under The Patio’ was recorded during an intensive ten days in Wales and yields a collection of songs that really pack a punch. Right from the opening bars of ‘All Our Sins’, the sheer drive of the band’s sound comes across loud and clear. Via a garage rock banger with a distinctly funky undertone, the combination of fuzz bass and a loud drum part instantly whips up the excitement, whilst a relatively mechanical feel allows for something far more interesting than yet another White Stripes/Royal Blood obsessed outfit. The arrangement’s contrast between noisy bass riffs and dance-able grooves quickly sets a great tune in place, and Fitzgerald’s slightly worn vocal is almost as confident as the music itself. Adding a gang vocal to an already big hook, this number gets Little Thief’s rousing sound across perfectly. Someone in the band understands the power in an arrangement too, as there’s time enough for a lengthy interlude where unaccompanied vocals are slowly joined by riffs rising from the quiet, eventually full power for one last hit from the chorus. It’s amazing how much can be packed into just three minutes, but in terms of providing the ultimate adrenalin hit, this is the perfect opener.

The rest of the album is varied, but just as enjoyable. Adopting a bluesier edge, ‘Freak’ works a repetitive riff atop a steady groove. In adopting a musical mood somewhere between ‘AM’ era Arctic Monkeys and the more commercial sounds of Black Pistol Fire, Little Thief unveil their dirtier side with a steady drum part and a choppy guitar part adding a simple melody. With a solid rhythm set in motion, it’s often down to Charlie’s voice to provide the real interest, and the more soulful vocal really gives a delicate balance, especially once everything drops into more of a Royal Blood inspired chorus. ‘Bringing It Back’ continues on a very rhythmic path, but takes a more mechanical turn with sparse musical passages relying almost solely on the drums. The choppy sounds are augmented by distorted vocals and bursts of fuzzed out music, creating something as jerky as an art rock throwback, but totally contemporary at the time of recording. It takes a little longer to warm up, but between some great drums and the belated arrival of a fuzzy blanket of guitars augmented by synths, there’s a heavy but melodic sound that’s deserving of the volume being cranked. Blending post punk punchiness with echoing guitar work, there are hints of Wire and Joy Division running through the veins of ‘Lost In Love’, but a much bigger chorus and moody vocal draws far more from “typical” Little Thief fare, resulting in a crashy rocker where harmony vocals do their best to be heard through a wall of sound. It also gives Rhii a bigger role, too, when she takes a lead vocal on the last verse, with a hushed tone that gives the louder elements of the track a fine contrast.

Pushing forth a selection of deep keyboard bleeps against a steady drum, ‘Doctor’ shows off a much more laid back band, but the spacious music allows for some great vocals to shine throughout. Charlie adopts a superb croon which is complimented by a several wordless interjections from Rhii on a simple hook. Although this casts aside the band’s chunkier riffs and funkier rhythms, it shows the power of their songcraft, since the lyrics have much less to hide behind. A cheeky lift from The Stones shows good taste, and despite the subtler approach leading to more of a slow burner all round, a few plays ensures the bass heavy moods here eventually provide a pleasingly melodic listen. A wall of feedback and shrill guitar noise opens ‘Jackpot’ before dropping back to reveal a stately bass groove from Paul Hopkins, underscored by a stomping rhythm. Heavy but somehow still feeling quite sparse, it has the potential to be one of the album’s most confronting arrangements, serving up a bleak atmosphere before any obvious melody. A few listens helps the core of the track sound a little easier on the ear, and there’s something slightly arty about the way Charlie’s moody vocal keeps everything together with the kind of delivery that sounds incredibly world weary, almost as if he’s reached breaking point and this is about releasing a sad despair rather than the expected anger. The track’s real heart comes from its chorus which, despite sounding as it it were written at a completely different time and song, sounds superb. It doesn’t aim for the big singalong, but instead works a softer indie sound. There are some great harmonies from Rhii, and a few cleaner tones; there are unexpected hints of Blur circa ‘13’ here and too, and once you get over the initial shock of something so reflective being dropped into the middle of a grinding, guitar heavy number, it’s definitely a standout.

A real highlight on an album of highlights, the title cut switches the mood for something quieter, as ringing guitar notes join a mournful Guy Garvey-esque vocal. The mumbling, dour performance is perfectly suited to the lyric recounting a true life tale of a man who kept body parts in cardboard boxes under his TV set. You might think that’s bleak enough, but the line “…blood dripping through the ceiling” serves up some particularly stark and striking imagery – more so than you’d first perhaps realise. Those who take an immediate shine to Little Thief’s noisier side shouldn’t feel short changed by this switch to an Elbow-ish indie-prog, though, as the chorus sections are afforded a suitably loud burst of guitars, chiming at full volume, but perfectly in sync with a crashy drum part and distorted vocal, and – eventually – a shift into a doom riff that could crush everything in its path. This unexpected blend of modern prog, noisy indie and stoner vibes really shows off Little Thief’s desires not to be pigeonholed, as well as their abilities to tackle a range of rock styles with ease. Elsewhere, the stomping ‘Gold Rush’ mixes elements of Royal Blood, White Stripes and Arctic Monkeys with a more typically Little Thief sense of melody, delicately balancing bursts of guitar with strong vocals; ‘Caroline’ offers some brilliant indie rock where muted guitars compliment a soaring vocal, and ‘Won’t Come Back Alive’ places echoing guitar lines and fluid bass work within vaguely reggae influenced rhythm whilst a Damon Albarn-ish vocal suggests someone had been digging into bits of Gorillaz and The Good The Bad and The Queen. Choirs of vocals lend an odd disquiet during this particular track, and a final shift into an easy listening samba provides a brilliant twist. Although it doesn’t have the sheer energy of the band’s best material overall, there’s plenty here that hints at an even more varied follow up.

Sharing traits with Temples, Royal Blood, Arctic Monkeys and Tame Impala, this is an album that can be recommended to fans of any (or all) of those bands, but it’s true brilliance comes from never sounding like a carbon copy of any of them. It’s the work of a band who truly believe in themselves. Not in an arrogant way, but Little Thief certainly haven’t been shy in putting their heart into almost every note…and it shows. It’s also pleasingly varied and really well produced release, with the bulk of the material conveying a really bright, yet layered sound throughout. With ten songs packed into a forty minute running time, there’s no room for filler or any time for the listener’s attention to wander, and as a result, ‘Under The Patio’ is a strong contender for the best debut of 2021.

September 2021