The Thermals


i know, i know. i’m a lazy asshole. what else is new? lately this blog has just been another bullet point on the growing list of things that i let myself off the hook about because i’m feeling worthless, which only leads to me feeling more worthless, and so on and so forth from ’93 til infinity. actually, you could apply that last sentence to pretty much every single thing i’ve attempted in my life thus far. but enough about me. we can play the world’s smallest violin together some other time.

this is a post about a punk rock band called The Thermals. it’s also a post about my friend Danniel. he told me about The Thermals, and I have a feeling we are going to be friends for a long time and i’ll always end up associating The Thermals with Danniel’s goofy smile. good guy. follow him on twitter and look out for a band called Katie + Her Sister that features my bass skills, D’s microkorg chops, and my good friend Brad’s passion for percussion (that has a nice ring to it).

2003 saw the release of More Parts Per Million, a ripper that documented the young Portland band tearing through 13 slices of lo-fi punk rock in under half an hour. while the tempos and volume were always up, there was always something more cerebral going on underneath the fuzz. hutch harris’ verbose sneer rides high in the mix, but he never sounds out of place. death cab’s chris walla mixed the self-recorded album and ben gibbard championed the band into the hands of Sub Pop, who would release three of their albums. critics were impressed by the refined chaos and hype steadily grew for the young band. 

for their follow up, the Thermals spent 4 days with Chris Walla in seattle and recorded Fuckin’ A. while the tones and songwriting became more and more refined, the synergy between Harris’ snark and the loose buzzsaw rock behind him was more fiery than ever. Harris’ expanded the scope of his lyrics to match, taking on more broad issues than the personal and music-related strife that inspired most of their first album. the thermals also began to add a little more breathing room to their clangy compositions, better highlighting the poignancy in Harris’ lyrics without having to dial down the energy. Fuckin’ A showed us that these Thermals were here to stay, but their best work was ahead of them.

Fugazi’s Brendan Canty recorded and produced the Thermals third outing, The Body, The Blood, The Machine, commonly regarded as the band’s magnum opus. according to the band, The Body narrates ” the story of a young couple who must flee a United States governed by fascist faux-Christians.” it’s a grand tale, spun from absolutely vicious stabs at pretty much everyone who was in desperate need of such treatment circa 2006; the Bush-Cheney axis, fundamentalist Christianity, neoconservatism, and the overall cultural regression that has only taken a slight detour with this new administration. Harris’ use of religous imagery mixed with his ever-evolving lyrical dexterity  only added more poison to their rain of arrows. never ones to take themselves too seriously, the Thermals showed great skill in graduating to such serious content without abandoning the lo-fi punk pop that everyone first fell in love with. The Body, The Blood, The Machine is that rare piece of art with the outstanding ability leave you pissed off and smiling at the same time. it was widely regarded as one of the best records of 2006.

The Thermals released their John Congleton (Explosions In The Sky, Mountain Goats, Polyphonic Spree) produced fourth LP, Now We Can See, with Kill Rock Stars on April 7th. all the music was recorded by the core duo of Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster, while Westin Glass of Say Hi joined on drums after the sessions. i honestly can’t say much about this record since i haven’t given it a solid enough listen yet; i’ve been too busy rocking out to and deconstructing the Thermals’ previous output. i might come back and edit this once i give it a few more runthroughs. the one thing i am noticing, congletons trademark punchy production lends itself nicely to their sound. it’s the Thermals at their cleanest soundwise, but their ear for hooks and smiling energy seem more than intact, and Harris’ lyrics are in the spotlight. it’s the most immediately engaging of all their albums, making it a great place to start exploring their work. 

don’t let the infectious hooks and contagious energy distract you, there are lots of complex, thoughtful ideas behind the yelps and distortion. those will pull you in, but Harris’ lyrics along with study of their growth as songwriters from album to album will keep you coming back. while many of the lo-fi punks du jour hang their entire sound and image on that weak coathook of irony that the thermals so conciously avoid, i’m fairly sure history will be much kinder to the Thermals earnest nature. even when they are writing concept albums, there are few bands less ostentatious and posturing and the Thermals. if there’s any justice, they’ll be giving me and danniel and thousands of others something brainy, energetic, and fun to look forward to for awhile to come.


One Response to “The Thermals”

  1. you know, one of the things that led me down the path I took in life was realising that it was possible to tell a new story about my life.

    That first paragraph sounds like a bad story someone told about you. You don’t need it. There are much better stories to tell —

    I was telling my father last night how impressed I am with you, how well you write, how passionate you seem about your music and about sharing what is good… consider that fodder for a first draft.

    (and forgive me for taking serious what we were supposed to laugh off.)

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