Last week I wrote about the beautiful, subtle music of James Blake. This week I am writing about the Thermals, who are almost exactly Blake’s opposite: blasty, condensed, driving pop-punk. Blake is from England and the Atlantic Ocean; the Thermals are from Portland and the Pacific. Blake’s music is full of complex chords and strange percussion, while the Thermals hammer away on power chords and crash cymbals. Blake is quiet and the Thermals are loud as fuck. Take your pick, I suppose.
Or don’t. Desperate Ground, the band’s new record, is refreshing in its urgency, and the whole record pulsates with a sort of pubescent urge to yell. Ground’s energy is palpable and catchy without being mundane or saccharine. The band imbues punk aesthetics with singer-songwriter sensibilities. Desperate Ground is ecstatic music, a manic, marathon cry to heaving chests and sleepless nights, screaming out against
The lyrics of singer and guitarist Hutch Harris are an immediate presence on the record. Harris sounds like a screechy John Darnielle, hopped up on a dozen cups of coffee and itching for a fight, calling out posers and weaklings in a manner not unlike a friendlier Henry Rollins. Harris and bassist Kathy Foster fly threw strings of straight-staccato power-chord riffs, their axes chugging along in speedy unity. Though they play the same chords, it is Foster’s playing is more charismatic, less flashy, and better anchored – she and drummer Westin Glass share a rhythmic connection that does much to accentuate the album’s weighty feel. Glass is the band’s propeller, Foster the rudder, and Harris the mad captain.
The record is peppy and vigorous from its balls-out start (“Born to Kill”) through a balanced middle section (“The Sword By My Side”) all the way to its gutpunching conclusion (“Our Love Survives”). The Thermals have still got it, and you better believe they’re not giving it up to the likes of you.
The Thermals – Born to Kill
The Thermals – The Sword by My Side