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Music / J.G. Thirlwell

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"I'm the cockroach in your tinseltown..."

"Is it too late to trade in my mind?"
— "Kreibabe", from the album Flow

James George Thirlwell (born 29 January 1960), a.k.a. Clint Ruin, is the main man behind industrial music experiment Foetus and the official maestro of The Venture Bros.. Born from the underground "No Wave" era of the 1980s, Thirlwell is a multi-talented singer, songwriter, producer and instrumentalist whose output has largely been ignored by the mainstream, thus earning him a cult following amongst both old school and new crew hipsters and music aficionados alike. A rock 'n' roll chimera, Thirlwell's musical influences and style runs the gamut from Punk Rock to Noise Rock to Big Band to Jazz to avant-garde symphonies, all of which is reflected in his numerous projects, side-projects, and one-off collaborations. The most persistent include:

  • Foetus is the name of Thirlwell's traditional musical project, except when he calls it Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel, or Foetus Interruptus, or Foetus In Excelsis Corruptus Deluxe, or any other variation on the British term for an unborn mammal. Probably the most accessible of all of Thirlwell's work, most tracks on a Foetus album can be broadly defined as "industrial rock", although recent excursions have veered into the realm of cinematic instrumentals. While Jim Thirlwell isn't the only one who namedrops unborn babies in his band name, he happens to be the only one who uses the British spelling, which helps fans identify early Foetus albums despite the "band's" revolving name.
  • Steroid Maximus and Manorexia are Thirlwell's two solely instrumental projects, the former more straight-forward and the latter more minimalist and experimental. They were formed to offset the amount of instrumental tracks leaking their way onto Thirlwell's Foetus albums, and in the case of Manorexia, allow him to liberate his talents as a musician and composer outside normal boundaries.
  • Wiseblood is what Thirlwell called his collaboration with ex-Swans member and fellow No Waver Roli Mosimann. Just as Steroid Maximus and Manorexia attracted Thirlwell's orchestrated side, Wiseblood catered to his filthy, angry, perverse, Post-Punk sensibilities with a number of noisy, guitar-driven, Garage Rock-esque tunes.

And of course, there is The Venture Bros.' soundtrack, which arguably infected a whole mess of new listeners with the Foetus pathogen. Aside from his personal work, J. G. Thirlwell has also worked as producer, contributor, and remixer for a number of like-minded artists, such as Nine Inch Nails, The The, Marilyn Manson, Glenn Danzig, Soft Cell, Nick Cave, Lydia Lunch, and the Kronos Quartet.

For more on Big Jim Thirlwell, please visit his website, which includes his enormous discography.

J. G. Thirlwell and his music provides examples of:

  • AcCENT Upon the Wrong SylLABle: Self-destruction and personal decadence being common themes means many songs are sung like Thirlwell is either belligerently drunk, acting like a rock star diva, or about to flip some tables.
  • Boxed Set: the limited edition The Foetus Of Excellence box is an unusual example due to not including the actual music - it was an empty box designed to fit all five Foetus records that had been released at that point, as packaged with an exclusive t-shirt.
  • Color Motifs: there was a deliberate progression for Foetus artwork up until the mid-1990s - early EPs were had completely black and white covers, then red was added in to the color scheme, followed by yellow and finally a full color photo on Gash. Since then, most albums have only used variations of red, yellow, black, white and/or grey schemes.
  • Echoing Acoustics: "How To Vibrate" sounds like it was recording in a echo chamber inside of a waterfall.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: Thirlwell's promotes this occasionally in some of his more eclectic work.
  • Everything Sounds Sexier in French: The song "Mon Agonie Douce", which also counts as Gratuitous French.
  • Functional Addict: His first dozen or so releases were recorded on a mountain of methamphetamines, as is evident in their manic approach.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: “¡Chingada!”, from the '88 album Thaw, which also happens to be a case of...
  • Harsh Vocals: Jim Thirlwell sometimes sounds like a more nasally, somewhat higher-pitched version of Tom Waits or Nick Cave.
  • I Am the Band: Literally. And plural. Jim Thirlwell is the sole composer and performer on the majority of his work, only calling in help for a few tracks on each album. This would be cool enough if he just produced simple garage rock, but then you realize he's also built massive symphonic soundscapes all on his own.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Every Foetus album to date has a four-letter word for its title: Hole, Thaw, Sink, Love, etc.
    • Additionally, the project used to go by a number of moniker variations per EP, such as "Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel", "Foetus Corruptus", "Foetus Uber Frisco", and so on. 1995's Gash broke the trend, and every release since then has just been credited as "Foetus".
    • Even the album art doesn't escape this, as a several pairs of albums have shared the same design ethic, such as Ache/Hole or Thaw/Rife.
  • Industrial: The easiest way to describe Foetus to an outsider, and even then, it doesn't cover every style played. He particularly hates being called "industrial".
    • On the other hand, Jim Thirlwell is considered by many to be the unsung godfather of the entire Industrial movement, not just for seniority, but because of the sheer amount of material the man has consistently produced since the '80s.
  • Industrial Metal: Wiseblood could be considered an early example with its marriage of sludgy guitars and abrasive electronics.
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: Every once in awhile, Thirlwell will deliberately christen one of his songs with a attention-grabbing title, like "The Only Good Christian Is A Dead Christian".
    • Furthermore, KILL WHITEY!
    • Most of his "Foetus"-related aliases count, perhaps none more than "Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel."
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "I'll Meet You In Poland, Baby" is a one-man acapella song, about the invasion that kicked off World War II.
  • New Sound Album: 1995's Gash was far less '80s than previous Foetus releases, possibly a by-product of being (momentarily) picked up by a major label. Later releases would see Thirlwell juxtaposing a number of different styles together instead of filling up an album with one linear style.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The opening track, "Cosmetics", on Hide is not about cosmetics at all. It's actually about God. Or something.
  • Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep: Played with in "Oilfields":
    If I die before I wake
    Someone's made a big mistake
  • Pop-Star Composer: Thirlwell has composed for a rather large number of screen projects, including FX's animated series Archer, [adult swim]'s animated series The Venture Bros., and the horror film The Blue Eyes (2012).
  • Rearrange the Song: "No Vacancy", the theme song to The Venture Bros., is a reworking of "Fighteous", off the Steroid Maximus album Quilombo.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: Half of Foetus's entire discography counts.
  • Scary Musician, Harmless Music: Inverted. J. G. Thirlwell seems like a rather cool, relaxed dude. According to his music, however, he's some kind of Perpetual Nervous Breakdown Machine.
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: Well, it usually is just Jim on vocals, so...
  • Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: J.G. Thirlwell loves to write songs that fall hard on the cynical side of this.
    • "Aladdin Reverse" in particular appears to be about a rockstar realizing at the end of his life that he's shat everything down the drain in the pursuit of his own excess.
  • Shout-Out: Superintendent Chalmers deserves some song royalties for "Take It Outside Godboy".
  • Stage Names: Jim has gone by the moniker of Clint Ruin in the past. In fact, some of his old albums were credited to multiple, non-existant artists and producers like Phillip Toss and Frank Want.
  • Stealth Pun: The Foetus album Hide has a "satellite" album titled Soak. Hide and Soak. Geddit?
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song: Several across his career, less so in the beginning but increasingly common. Manorexia would qualify as a "surprisingly gentle side-project." However, with Thirlwell, "gentle" does not mean the music is any less unnerving.
  • Three Chords and the Truth: Thirlwell is a child of the "No Wave" movement of the 1980s, which was the Mirror Universe counterpart to the commercially driven New Wave scene. As such, much of Thirlwell's early Foetus work comes across as hot and dirty rock 'n' roll, to his uber-stylish mainstream rivals.
  • Villain Song: "Anything (Viva!)" from Nail is quite possibly one of the most malicious songs in the history of Western music, featuring the repeated refrain "I can do any goddam thing I want" and containing not-so-subtle threats, such as "Take a bull by the horns / Gonna slit me some throats on the White House lawn".
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Subverted, as many of Thirlwell's songs are stream-of-consciousness, tending to flow around tones of self-abuse, loathing, psychosis, and egomania. They end up being highly interpretive when all's said and done.
  • Yarling: Thirlwell's voice is a scratchier, more melodramatic variant of this.

Alternative Title(s): Foetus, Manorexia, Steroid Maximus