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More Parts Per Million (2002), 6/10
Fuckin A (2004), 6/10
The Body The Blood The Machine (2006), 6.5/10
Now We Can See (2009), 5.5/10
Personal Life (2010) , 4.5/10

The Thermals, from Oregon, play lo-fi garage-rock on More Parts Per Million (Subpop, 2003), ignited by vocalist Hutch Harris' poignant rants, such as Brace And Break, sometimes bordering on punk-rock (the single No Culture Icons, Bord Dead). But his rigmaroles vent frustration (Time To Lose) rather than anger, and, if one removes the raw and rowdy band playing, are not all that far from reflective pop (Back To Gray).

Fuckin A (Subpop, 2004) is a tighter parade of catchy sloppy refrains that reference contemporary events. Although no song is particularly memorable, the whole is both powerful and tuneful. The innocent verve of How We Know is ripped apart by the epileptic refrain in a way reminiscent of the new wave of the 1970s. The anthemic peak of the album is Keep Time, although the guitar bacchanal is not matched by adequate vocal fervor.

Pared down to the duo of Harris and Kathy Foster, the Thermals proceeded to deliver their gravest statement yet. The Body The Blood The Machine (2006) was a concept album built around Hutch Harris' hatred of organized religion and government. The key to its success, however, was Kathy Foster's music, and her obsessive quest for the anthemic refrain, that occasionally evokes a punkish version of vintage Jefferson Starship (Here's Your Future, and especially A Pillar of Salt) or an accelerated Bob Dylan (An Ear For Baby). The frenzied anthem I Hold The Sound also recycles elements of R.E.M. and Bruce Springsteen. The Thermals have now a much wider and more varied range of styles at their disposal, from the slow, martial I Might Need You To Kill to the feverish and whirling A Pillar Of Salt. The only drawback is that the "concept" slows down the music, as some songs are obviously more interested in telling a story than in riffs, refrains and the likes. Little is left of their garage days.

A lot less energetic and a lot tidier, Now We Can See (Kill Rock Stars, 2009) did not stand up to its predecessor but somehow found its best inspiration in themes of decay and death: the anguished shout of When I Died, the virulent singalong We Were Sick, and especially the brief but burning and roaring When We Were Alive, a welcome return to wild rock'n'roll. Otherwise the power-pop ballads of the album tend to be predictable and weak; distractions rather attractions. The most vibrant is perhaps Now We Can See, but none of them amounts to much.

Personal Life (2010) contains the peppy I Don't Believe You and a lot of slower songs that don't quite make sense neither as entertainment nor as exploration.

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