Musically Brilliant, Lyrically Brutal
As poppy and slick as their production may be, at the end of the day The Thermals require an active listen. The Portland trio is far more than its bouncy jams belie. Deeper concepts like politically-charged calls to action and violence as a larger entity range throughout the band’s lyrical catalog. Though not necessarily a stark break from The Thermals’ watchdog approach to songwriting, it’s the whats and the whys that make Desperate Ground a curious ride through the troubled psyche of the universe. Echo-soaked vocals topple over fuzzed-out guitars, spilling through peaks and valleys of sound. The jagged grit of opener “Born to Kill” is startling at worst, and so completely visceral it’ll make your insides and outsides squirm.
Desperate Ground harkens back to The Thermals’ hey-day when The Body, The Blood, The Machine was knocking listeners on their asses in 2006. Since then, it’s been a weird ride as they refine their sound and stay true to their message. Make no mistake, the albums leading up to this were nearly as biting and just as aurally pleasant. There’s just something about their current three-part mix of engulfing guitars, torrents of percussion, and frontman Hutch Harris’s lone vocals that puts Desperate Ground head and shoulders above the Thermals’ most recent efforts. Though not necessarily a concept album, repeated themes drive the ten-track LP from its trigger-happy opener to the closest thing The Thermals may ever come to a ballad in “Our Love Survives.” Calls of defending some long-forgotten honor run rampant throughout the song, and frontman Hutch Harris fittingly comes off like a belligerent preacher with a megaphone and a message.
“Our Love Survives” is a noble effort at pinning the art of war to a more nobler cause of, well, love. The song works just as well with a torrid tryst as it would alongside military propaganda: swap love for democracy and you’ve got yourself an anthem. Such universality may not be the most pleasant outlook towards society, but it’s just as honest as The Thermals have always been. Desperate Ground is longing to be heard, its urgency a siren song that completely draws you in.