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splendid > reviews > 4/20/2004
The Thermals
The Thermals
Fuckin A
Sub Pop


Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Top of the Earth"

Buy me now
While The Thermals' previous album was based entirely on a K-Mart-purchased cassette tape recording, this one just sounds like it. I mean that in a good way, though; it's clear that the raw immediacy of More Parts Per Million was precisely what the band was going for on their sophomore effort. Their aesthetic, joyous explosion, is still in full effect, and the album still clocks in shorter than a Mark Kozelek throat-clearing, but there is a definitive hint of musical development between these two efforts, even if it's not all that obvious upon first listen.

Let's not mince words: the ideal setting for listening to Fuckin A is still via cassette-tape recording played through barely usable 1986-era Walkman while speeding down back-country roads in the back of your friend's pickup truck (full disclosure: I spent my adolescence in Mississippi). This is pure, unabashed, joy-of-rock-'n-roll rock music. The songs employ four barre chords if you're lucky, and get in and out of your ears in a period of time that wouldn't discomfit the Ramones. Naturally, this leads to some slightly awkward facts creeping in; for example, the songs start sounding a whole lot alike. Granted, they aren't so much intended to stand on their own as they are designed to knock you down again just as you're struggling to stand up from the pummeling the preceding track handed you. Still, the combination of spoken-sung vocals and repetition make "Our Trip" and "When You're Thrown" sound as if they might be two recordings of the same track, until you play them one after the other.

For all of that, each of these songs commands your whole attention while it's playing, a not-inconsiderable achievement. Moreover, tracks like "Let Your Earth Quake, Baby" sound as if they are sonic experiments within the album's context, even though they are entirely straightforward rock songs. It's almost as though, by writing what can be experienced as one long, explosive track with pauses, they have created a different way of hearing small variations. While this trick has been used to good effect in any number of electronic albums over the years, it has rarely worked this well in a rock context.

Listing the tracks and their merits would be pretty pointless. Those merits are pure electricity, rhythm and joy, and they're simple enough to be sold via evidence at hand (if you need a harder sell, visit the Boombox). Fuckin A is simple, and sweet, and fun, and true.



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