THIBAULT Or Not Thibault gets 9/10


Or Not Thibault
Chapter Music


In the 90s one of the finest, and best-named, Australian bands were Minimum Chips. Part of Chapter Music’s fabled roster of the time, the group supported such stellar acts like Stereolab and Pavement. After releasing their only studio album, Kitchen Tea Thankyou, in 2005, their lead vocalist Nicole Thibault stepped away from music to raise her family. 

Her new project takes her surname as its title and is worth the extended wait. Time and distance have not decreased Thibault’s ability to craft beautiful dream pop of the highest order. Her new album, Or Not Thibault, was released on September 4 (via old friends Chapter Music) and it exudes true warmth and charm. The arrangements are thoughtful and lush, with an almost mystical element to it all. 

Shepherding the old icon of Australian independent music into the current fold are some of the finest recent names in the community. Zak Olsen (Traffik Island), Rebecca Liston (Parsnip) and Lachlan Denton (The Ocean Party) are all present to round out the sound; as is former Minimum Chips co-conspirator Julian Patterson. 

Thibault’s style is certainly indebted to Stereolab (it’s little wonder that they toured together) but it’s a newer conjuror of celestial pop that feels like an inspiration on the opening track on the album. The twirling and starry arrangement of See the World is reminiscent of Beach House. The song is literally about dreaming, too, with Thibault sighing “I want to see all the world/ I do,” her voice hopeful but deflated. 

A multi-instrumentalist, Thibault’s work on this record is sublime. There are mildly prophetic horns; zig-zagging vintage synths (see the pounding Drama); and even a harpsichord (Centrelink). Much of the sound recalls Metronomy’s fourth album, Love Letters, with its use of vintage synths and earnest lyricism, especially on the instrumental Treasure Trove, which sounds like the announcement of the arrival of a medieval court jester. 

It might be a little quaint if it wasn’t all undercut by such whimsical humour and winning realism. Centrelink is a slice-of-life tale of the “delights” of spending hours at a Centrelink which will be instantly relatable for some, particularly in these times of COVID-19 (“Trying not to tear up at my local centrelink”). Thibault always does well to strike a balance between her homespun and realistic songwriting and the bright melodiousness of the instrumentation. It’s what makes a song title like Wanting to be Alone an ironic one.

The middle of the record contains an instrumental two-piece. First the lovely and lilting Componential; then the more striking Continuer, with its cinematic sound momentous and resounding (Thibault has stated that it was her ode to the late composer Ennio Morricone). Perhaps it’s unsurprising given her absence from music but the record is quite long. There are even two reworkings of the same song included – the psychedelic groove of Late Expectations and straighter pop sensibility of Later Expectations

There are also lots of flashes of melancholy. The downtempo Chatty Cathy contains moving twinkling keys, while closing song Too Much Time is both a meditation on the passing of time and a wistful remembrance of a lost friend (“Stop and come back to me so I can sing this song to you”). 

Or Not Thibault is a divine and welcome comeback from Thibault. One hopes that there is not another 15-year gap between this release and her next album. Her warm songwriting and control of melody are too innate for that to be allowed to happen.