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splendid > reviews > 3/5/2003
The Thermals
The Thermals
More Parts Per Million
Sub Pop


Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "No Culture Icons"

Buy me now
So how the hell does a Portland lo-fi band get signed to Sub Pop, like, a few months after they formed? Is it possible that the fact that Kind Of Like Spitting's Ben Barnett is the lead guitarist had some effect on the decision to sign these youngsters? Nah, of course not.

Okay, so The Thermals have a leg up on the competition when it comes to getting signed. To be fair, the band is also composed of scene veterans, and lead yeller Hutch Harris has a way with a distorted, four-on-the-floor pop song. Still, they've released an aggressively production-free album on the closest thing the indie rock world has to a major label, so they rightly raise questions: Is it kind of pretentious to release a lo-fi debut on Sub Pop? Is it even possible for someone to be pretentious by releasing a lo-fi album anymore, or has the this kind of recording turned the corner into kitsch? And is the music any good?

I leave it to the reader's critical faculties to answer the first two questions. As for the third, I am very happy to say that of More Parts Per Million's twenty-eight-odd minutes, about twenty are quite tasty.

One thing I would like to clear up before we proceed: why is it that the more frenetic The Thermals' music gets, the more closely Hutch Harris's voice apes John Darnielle's? Is it simply inevitable that anyone singing over a band into a poorly-placed ambient mic is doomed to sound either like a Mountain Goat or a Pollard? Whatever the reason, the effect of having a voice like that over a fast-paced rock combo sits well.

What we have here are thirteen two-minute songs, each built on bouncy, rollicking rhythms, scattershot guitar work and nasal exhortations. It's a happy-sounding album, and given slightly better production would make for perfect top-down summer driving music. In its current state, the liberal fuzz and crackle make the band sound almost like a more complex and nuanced variety of bouncy post-punk act playing in the famous Portland rain. Which may, for all I know, have been the point.

All of the tunes are energetic, but their similarity will definitely become apparent by the time you reach the album's end. Really, though, that's fine; while the tunes run together, the energy level more than makes up for it. More importantly, it is not speed for speed's sake, but a real musical vitality that fuels the Thermals' attack.



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