Compare and Contrast: The Thermals' Desperate Ground

Posted by on Monday, May 6, 2013

Tori and I are trying something new on the Wires and Waves blog. It’s a weekly post called, Compare and Contrast. As long as I've known Tori, I loved to discuss music with her. She’s one of those people that it’s fun to disagree with because she’s as passionate about her musical convictions as I am. Not to say we always disagree. We also have lots of common favorite bands and opinions on music too.

We thought it would be fun for each of us to review the same album and let you, the reader, get two different perspectives of it.
The first album we chose to review is a new album by The Thermals released a few weeks ago, Desperate Ground.

Tori's Review

I’ve been listening to the Thermals for some years now. I first fell in love with them right around when The Body, the Blood, the Machine came out in 2006. I heard them on the radio (thanks KEXP) and then saw them at Bumbershoot. That album and then Now We Can See, released in 2009, have been in my music listening rotation ever since. I love their raw, post-punk sound and angsty lyrics packed with symbolism of struggles with religion, sin, and the human race. And, yes, while most their songs do all sound pretty similar, using the almost all same chord progression, it’s in good taste, true to the punk sound. I only recently sat down and listened to their first two albums a couple months ago, More Parts per Million and Fuckin A. They were good, I especially enjoyed Fuckin A but not as much as the two albums the followed. The Thermals seemed to peek at The Body, the Blood the Machine with Now We Can See taking a close second. They then plummeted with Personal Life. They lost their edge in that album. There was no punch. They take no stabs at mankind or God. True to the album’s title, it was Hutch Harris crying about something personal. I forget what because I got bored and stopped paying attention.

The Thermals’ new album, Desperate Ground seems to be a slow crawl back to the height that The Body, the Blood, the Machine sits at. Still some parts where I got a little bored but there’s still a little more kick to it, a little more angst and vague symbols of war, blood and swords than in Personal Life. Like in his 2006 and 2009 albums, Harris is still fighting to live and struggling with his morals. The album started off really strong with “Born to Kill” which seems to be a bit of a sequel to the track “I Might Need You to Kill” off Body, Blood, Machine. The album continues with a few other highs (I Go Alone) and lows (Faces Stay With Me) then really fizzles out with “Our Love Survives.” And, more so than any other album, these songs really don’t vary much in sound. All in all, it’s not a horrible album, better than the previous one. It does give me a little more hope for what’s next. But, when it comes down to it, I’d much rather listen to any of their first four albums.

Zach’s Review
Before listening to Desperate Ground I’d never listened to The Thermals. I had no idea what to expect. First off, all but one song on this album is under three minutes long which makes for a quick listen of an entire album. This is a rock n roll, borderline punk rock album. The first and only thing that comes to mind for me when searching for a comparison are Japandroids. This may be unfair because Japandroids have set such a high bar for this genre of rock n roll.

Did I love this album? No, but that doesn't mean I hated it. I liked it but I don’t see myself coming back to it. To me this album has a few really great songs and a lot of average songs. I thought they mostly all sounded the same and that’s after multiple listens.

The biggest reason I couldn't get into this album were the vocals. The lead singer almost speaks sings every song. Sometimes l like that (mewithoutYou), but it didn't work for me on this album. That’s not to say there’s no emotion behind his voice. There’s real conviction in his words and the way he sings, I’m just not crazy about it.

“The Sunset” is the strongest track on the album and is the song with the most variation from the others, followed by the last track, “Never Age”.

Truthfully I probably just didn't get it. I usually don’t listen to this type of music. It’s a little out of my expertise to critique a band like The Thermals. I’ll admit the most exciting thing to me about them is that they released this album on Saddle Creek, which used to be my favorite record label. 

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