Crystal Cats & LotR:
Dan Deacon Comes to H-town

Dan Deacon pic #1
Photo by Tom Oliver.
In a different world, not necessarily a just one but at least a more functional one, this would be a review of the new Thermals album, which I believe is called The Body, The Blood, The Machine. (Research is not my strong point.) But to the best of my knowledge, the review copy that I'm supposed to review is languishing in the international mails, somewhere between Houston and New Zealand. (Yes, I live in New Zealand and write for a Houston magazine. Long story.) Our esteemed editor wanted to get up a review of it before the show, presumably to encourage people to go to the show, but if I can't hear it, what am I to do?
I guess I could tell you that Pitchfork gave it a good review, but you probably read that. What I'd rather say is that The Thermals have been a personal favorite of mine since they were playing house parties in Portland before their first album, More Parts Per Million, came out. (Yes, I used to live in Portland. Also a long story.) Back then, they were a four-piece, with Kind of Like Spitting frontman (and often only-man) Ben Barnett on guitar and Hutch Harris singing without holding a guitar, jumping up and down like a madman. The songs were nearly meaningless and imparseable (simultaneously helped and hindered by being recorded on an overdriven 4-track cassette recorder) but nonetheless brilliant and certainly not without purpose. Take "No Culture Icons," with its pointed phrases like "hardly art / Hardly starving" juxtaposed with the more abstruse "More stained paper / More parts per million," to the backing of a wall of guitarbassdrum that just pumps along with limited parseability but buoyant energy, a perpetual motion machine of a song. One that, truth be told, wasn't that different from the other songs on the album, but that wasn't a bad thing. A friend complained at the time that all the Thermals songs sounded the same -- which was about as true, and as irrelevant, as saying all Ramones songs sound the same.
And then internal politics happen, and the quartet became a three piece. I saw them shortly after this in Seattle (and, no, I don't live in Seattle, not a long story), and they were...well, not great. Take a wild man who jumps all over the stage holding a microphone, give him a guitar, and it's like leashing a puppy or something -- kind of sad.
So then I wrote them off, and then I heard they put out a second album called Fucking A, and I ignored it, and then something odd happened. A track called "God and Country" showed up on a best-of-2005 compilation a friend made for me, and while it was still recognizably the Thermals (albeit with much clearer recording qualities), it had a different edge to it -- an angry and more direct edge. "Pray for a new state / Pray for assassination" is one prominent couplet, "It's my flag" is clearly recognizable, and the politics are altogether obvious -- none of which prevents the song from rocking like the proverbial fuck. So I picked up Fucking A, and it's to my mind a superior album to the first. It's not a political jeremiad from start to finish -- at least, I find myself unable to discern political subtext in lines like "let your earth quake me, baby" -- but it's a great listenable punk/rock album (as opposed to a "punk rock" album, a distinction which I hope is clear) and to my ears an admirable approach to both politics and music.
I hope I don't make the Thermals sound joyless by dwelling on their politics. They're not, at least in my experience; if anything, they are joy distilled. I don't namedrop these bands because I consider them sonically analogous, but there's a buzz that I used to get from Superchunk or Rocket From The Crypt that I get from The Thermals, a direct tap into a limitless well of energy that brightens everything around it. And if the glowing reports from friends of their recent shows are to be trusted, I expect that I'll spend the show bouncing up and down, soaking in the energy, scraping against the sky, and experiencing the joy that in my life nothing but live fast music has been able to bring. And maybe there will be moments of anger, and sheer frustration at the world and the government, and yet I suspect that there will still be hope, and that I might even experience that one moment where you forget of your body, your problems, of anything but the sound that envelops you. Perhaps I burden the Thermals too much with my expectations. But I believe they can handle the weight. END
The Thermals record cover

The Thermals play Tuesday, October 10th at The Proletariat (903 Richmond, Houston, TX. 77006), along with Bring Back The Guns, W The Letter, and DJ Courtesy.