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The Thermals - Fuckin' A

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Artist: The Thermals

Album: Fuckin' A

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Jun. 21, 2004

Although the concept of “punk rock” has been twisted, appropriated, and post-modernized most everywhere, the good people of America’s Pacific Northwest have managed to maintain a grip on punk’s most basic principles: Self-sufficiency, directness, and social engagement. K Records, Sleater-Kinney, and Nirvana are just a few examples of a West Coast scene that has maintained its allegiance to punk’s roots, even if the music’s sound has long since evolved.

People like to blame the personality quirks of Northwesterners on the incessant rain, but I would hazard that it has more to do with the area’s stubborn adherence to traditional Western values, a sense that modernization and change are to be taken with a pinch of salt. What the indie scene in the Northwest says, implicitly, is that there’s nothing wrong with punk’s ideals or ideas. Their expression may change with time, but the core values are consistent. So, while New York spits out either glam-spam punk like the Strokes or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Portland produces the Thermals, a trio of impossibly energetic, noisy indie kids who recorded a minor classic on a 4-track. That album was last year’s More Parts Per Million, 30 minutes of noisy melodic punk that immediately erased your memories of Green Day and Blink 182.

More Parts Per Million smashes and rattles inside your speakers, stunningly simple and fresh, one of those albums susceptible to obsession. The band also boasts an ace songwriter in Hutch Harris, who can generate an incredible level of lyrical detail within a two-and-a-half minute pop song. As a result, More Parts Per Million feels remarkably sophisticated for a low-fi punk record, which perhaps explains the band’s significant commercial success in Holland.

Released a year after their debut, Fuckin’ A is a very quick follow-up if you consider that the band has been touring almost constantly since they formed. Very little has changed. The band’s basic sound, dynamics, song subjects, and vocal tics have remained, albeit with tighter production in an actual studio. Despite the record’s minimal evolution, it’s still a joy to hear, an extension of the promise displayed on More Parts Per Million.

On Fuckin’ A, things just move up a notch. It’s difficult to say why exactly this stuff works, although it’s partly due to the incredible urgency on every one of the album’s cuts, akin to early Superchunk in its breathless intensity. Producer Chris Walla gives the band more definition in the mix while maintaining an overdriven, messy aesthetic. Guitars and pounding drums churn around Harris’ distinctive, slightly whiny voice, as one songs bleeds into another. On standouts like “How We Know” and “A Stare Like Yours” the Thermals take their rudimentary formula and churn out chunks hopelessly romantic rock.

By Jason Dungan

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