Band of the Day

2012.03.22

The Thermals

High energy punk rock that riffs on love and politics in equal measure
Pray for a new state. Pray for assassination.
lyrics from God and Country

Indie punk band The Thermals were formed in 2002 by Kathy Foster and Hutch Harris. The entirety of their first album, More Parts Per Million, was performed by Harris and was recorded on a 4-track cassette machine in his kitchen. Their sophomore album, titled Fuckin A, was released on Sub Pop records in 2004, followed by The Body, the Blood, the Machine in 2006. The group switched labels to Kill Rock Stars in 2009 to make their fourth album Now We Can See, which was followed by Personal Life, both of which earned critical praise and saw the addition of drummer Westin Glass. The group is known for lo-fi punk and rock influences and their use of political and religious imagery, in addition to having albums mixed and produced by Death Cab for Cutie member Chris Walla.

Though the Thermals hail from idyllic Portland, OR—a city so pleasant that Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein (who stars in The Thermals video "I Don't Believe You") created the sketch comedy show Portlandia to mock its residents’ tendency to pickle everything—their jittery, high-wire pop-punk songs are anything but civil. The band’s songs are angry and defiant, quick to question the status quo and tackling topics both worldly (the war in Iraq, the Bush administration) and personal (a crumbling relationship). But despite the heavy subject matter, the Thermals are essentially a really fun grownup punk rock band, one part giddy Superchunk rush and one part Buzzcocks snarl. Since forming in 2002, they have graduated from singer/guitarist Hutch Harris’ kitchen (the band’s lo-fi and ramshackle debut More Parts Per Million was recorded on a tape recorder amidst piles of dishes) to the upper echelon of the indie-rock world, releasing the epic The Body, The Blood, The Machine in 2006, playing festivals like Coachella and Pitchfork, and preaching the power of punk rock to kids all over the globe. Harris and bassist Kathy Foster first played together in the endearingly twee folk-pop group Hutch & Kathy, and their close-knit relationship is all over the band’s catalogue. On the Thermals’ latest record, 2010’s Personal Life, Foster even contributes to the songwriting: the driving fuzz bass line that dominates “Never Listen to Me” could be seen as an homage to the Breeders or just the band deciding to write a bouncy dance song. There’s no doubt that it’s the Thermals break up record, but the music is still joyous, moving from the anthemic declaration “I’m Gonna Change Your Life” to “I Don’t Believe You,” with its sticky “oh-oh-a-oh” hook and frantic guitar pulse. Personal Life was recorded, like their 2004 record Fuckin’ A, with assistance from Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla, and the relatively straightforward songs put the rhythm section (Foster plus drummer Westin Glass) upfront with Harris’ pleading, almost talky lyrics. The album ends with the upbeat “You Changed My Life,” with Harris singing “You changed my life/You proved me right/Provided every sky, every day, every light” in an inverse of the lines from the opening song. Listen to the Thermals just once, and you won’t just fall in love: they might change your life, too.