More Parts Per Million
ecognized by indie rock sweet boy Ben Gibbard, the Thermals were placed on the indie rock fast track. Additionally, the people that make up this band come from several other indie bands. Honestly, I haven’t heard any of these bands, so I can’t tell you if their sound translates to this group.
The album opens up with “It’s Trivia.” There’s a lot of shouted lyrics, “go fast go slow go sly go low.” They aren’t that important, though they do add a lot to the band’s image. The song is a lo-fi sounding distorted-guitar-full romp filled with indie pretension. This pretension is best explained through the vocal melody, if you’ve heard it, you know what I’m talking about. This is typified by a certain type of interval change, a forced jump in the melody placed there to create the illusion of melody. Here’s a good test, play the melody on the piano, does it sound believable? When the melodies work anywhere on this album it seems coincidental.
Single “No Culture Icons” is very much like the first song. It opens with the squealed phrase "hardly art, hardly starving." The band does the same "aren’t we garage?" deal in the background. The song contains a quaint little breakdown where the nowhere-near-in-tune guitar is struck percussively slightly behind the beat, which is kept up with a recklessly smashed crash cymbal.
When we get to “I Know the Pattern,” perhaps coincidentally we’ve already heard everything the album has to offer us. The music’s rollicking starts and stops, the general pep, the megaphone vocals that don’t mean anything. “Come on, ‘02, I know the pattern, 02, I know we’ll be here again.” Can somebody explain to me what this means? Some sort of cute allusion to rap music by quoting the year? Some sort of attempt at pre-occurrence nostalgia? I’m sure it functions as multiple meaningless things from person to person. And if meaninglessness is the point, then they’ve done their job quite effectively.
It isn’t clear what the Thermals want to accomplish with this album. Perhaps they want to appeal to the Guided by Voices fans that can’t wait two weeks until the next Faded Captain release. Surely people will appreciate them, citing their "lo-fi-ness" as some sort of mark of authenticity. But when every band does it, it loses the sense of wonder it once had—making this album sound much like every other garage band to have sprung up in the past year following the commercial break of the Strokes and White Stripes.
And that’s how this album sounds: derivative. Distorted guitar, smarter than thou lyrics, obvious lo-fi quality. It’s an insult to our intelligence. If you want minimalist punk-like music with better hooks and non-patronizing lyrics, pick up a Green Day album.
Reviewed by: Tyler Martin
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01