The Thermals - Desperate Ground
For all the accompanying interior and exterior gore and trauma that accompanies it, and the range from the level of the individual to the international to the intergalactic at which it can be unleashed, violence possesses an inherent clarity in its process: action and consequence; cause and effect. Building from this contradictory clarity, Portland trio The Thermals are possessed by the complex thematic matrix of violence over the ten tracks on the sixth stop on their carousel ride of indie-rock cornerstone labels (Sub Pop, Kill Rock Stars, and now Saddle Creek).
According to this core simplicity, many of these songs are all of one piece at their heart. Theirs is a raucous, lo-fi pop-punk largely delivered through a meat and potatoes three-chord framework (though they’ve laid claim to the discovery of the mystical fourth chord… it’s F#m). But whilst tracks lack particular individual differentiation over the course of the running time - possessing shades of Against Me!, Mission Of Burma and Archers Of Loaf, with a particular penchant for crashing cymbals and oceans of distortion - the simplicity of the song structure serves a purpose: as a mechanism to match the same clarity of cause-effect, a vent for the band’s kinetic energy.
In doing so the emphasis on Hutch Harris’ words is rendered even greater, ultimately a critical aspect on a semantic level when irony is the staple diet and specifics of tone become of the utmost significance in order to capture the range, characters and poises being adopted, the alternating rage, passion, apathy, wit and despair being expressed.
Desperate Ground is perhaps not as commanding a record as their 2006 breakthrough The Body, The Blood, The Machine in terms of stand-out songs or the pointedness of that record's attack upon religio-political culture. But their capacity to breakdown and skewer the structures and creative/destructive essence of America’s self-conceived, self-deceiving Manifest Destiny (“Our love destroys everything in our way / Our love survives, it will always be”) and the military-industrial complex and consciousness that has risen to dark supremacy because of it (“Each night I dream of a war / Each one greater than the one before”) is highly potent, emotive and necessary.