by Mike Corrigan
If you haven't scored the debut album by Portland's The Thermals yet, I have just one thing to say: you have to. You have to. I'm kicking myself for waiting so damn long. I believe it was in early April of this year that a quartet of Northwest indie rock notables -- notably Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster (of Hutch & amp; Kathy fame), Jordan Hudson, Ben Barnett (Kind of Like Spitting ) along with mix author Chris Walla (Death Cab for Cutie) -- officially committed to posterity this bracing, intelligent slab of modern rock 'n' roll that pays little or no heed to advancements in recording technology post-1965.
The fuzzy, incredibly claustrophobic sound, warped energy and playful stream-of-consciousness wordplay on More Parts Per Million (SubPop) recalls GbV back when it was still a Vampire on Titus. The jittery and urgent calls to smash boredom, pretension ("Hardly art / Hardly garbage" from "No Culture Icons") and clean out the rusty pipes is reminiscent of the best in intelligent, self- and socially aware post-punk. Here wisdom comes wrapped in delightfully grimy little packages. And all you thought you were getting was enthusiastic garage rock.
More Parts Per Million's technical roughness is precisely matched by guitarist Ben Barnett's unholy and essentially 100% lead-free power-chording. No solos need apply, as most of these tunes clock in and out with little time for a smoke, much less a lunch break. The tempos are swift. The album jumps out of the chute with the perceptive "It's Trivia" ("Go fast, go slow, go sly, go low / Where the hell you wanna be?") and doesn't hold back for the sake of endurance -- even when you kind of wish it would just for a second or two. The pace is in fact relentless and dizzying -- forcing you to listen closely as lyricist/singer Harris reels off head-snapping witticisms with the same je ne sais quoi as he dispenses smile-leveraging non-sequiturs and word jumbles. Harris' melodic caterwauling (incredibly compressed through the exclusive use of the "shitty microphone effect") might not be your first choice to buff out those frayed nerves after a long day in the machine. But for a blast of furious r'n'r primitivism with attitude, smarts and kicks galore to bring you crawling shamelessly back for the goods -- well, you know where to do your shopping.
Publication date: 08/14/03