aking snarls and three-chord melodies to heart, The Thermals' Fuckin A reworks the band’s earlier forays into uber-“no-fi” punk-rock. While Fuckin A wasn't recorded in the band's kitchen (like their debut More Parts Per Million), the crisper production gives the music an extra bite, making the case for pop punk-rock outside the used CD bins currently inhabited by (*insert your favorite SoCal pop-punk band here*). Paradoxically, though, the increased fidelity also reveals the band’s deficiency with musical dynamics, making a half-hour seem surprisingly long.
The Thermals is made up of members of the indie-pop band Hutch and Kathy. Given their folk-pop background, the group uses punk as a stylistic skin. Their penchant for minimal, high-energy thrashes invigorates the music—giving their straightforward melodies, drones, squeals and metallic guitars an abrasive (and urgent) earnestness that are oft forgotten within pop. This style was well-suited to the band's first recording with a four-track and a $60 budget, and doesn't appear much different on Fuckin A.
Beginning with "Our Trip," and the lyrics "We're self-mending / We're self-cleansing / Our slate is clean / Say what you mean," Fuckin A returns rock'n'roll to an adolescent high, albeit with the self-empowered braggadocio trimmings. With the emphasis on Jordan Hudson's straightforward yet propulsive drumming (reminiscent of Steve Drozd's bombastic drum-work), "Our Trip" kicks Fuckin A into full-throttle.
This energy brims over on “God and Country,” with a vitriolic or patriotic statement, dependent upon the reading of the chorus (“Pray for a new state / Pray for assassination”). The boiling rage that singer Hutch Harris finds with “God and Country” (and is obliquely alluded to in “Keep Time” and “A Stare Like Yours”) gives a powerful voice to the album’s insistent and post-grunge guitar-work. Harris' delivery focuses the musical arrangement, forcing a re-evaluation of each repetitive guitar stroke.
But by shooting for a propulsive getaway The Thermals also stumble—most notably with "Remember Today." The song switches from joyously impassioned rock into another tired emo ballad. With lyrics like "Everything You Feel / You can feel again / Hold Tight / Remember Today," Harris refashions spine-tingling into a very painful and cliché sensation. Such earnestness may try to warm the heart and break it, but it ends up having the opposite effect—hardening to the over-worked feel of much of this album.
By bringing Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla aboard to engineer Fuckin A’s sound the Thermals sound significantly more crisp. But the transition could simultaneously be its biggest detractor. More Parts Per Million had a magical fallibility and subsequent abandon that feels lost this time around.
Reviewed by: Nate De Young
Reviewed on: 2004-07-09