Crate-Digging Archive: The Thermals – The Body, The Blood, The Machine

The original intention of this column was to listen to all the records in my collection in alphabetical order by album title. I’ve abandoned that for the most part. But I’ll come back to it periodically.

Originally published in an embryonic stage of this column sometime in 2009. Presented here with some revision.

(Sub Pop, 2006)

If you’re going to angrily take the political Right to task – in particular the Bush administration and the might-is-right, oil-hungy, kill-for-Jesus ethos – make sure you do it the right way. The Thermals – the bratty, Portland, Oregon, trio – come this close to perching atop a soapbox, but fortunately have enough enjoyable tunes in the tank to avoid that fate. They do set their targets up and take them down – of that you can be sure. And while my agreement with certain timely issues or disagreement therewith may inform my own listening, I have to step back from the obvious browbeating to focus on how the imagery and the message interact. It’s easy to guess where in the end The Thermals come out on the issues (religious and political, although we certainly know where they stand on the latter), and this album provides a great backdrop against which to bounce off my own thoughts and opinions. No, don’t stop reading – I’m not actually going to write them down – that’s a pointless exercise that are only going to get people angry who don’t agree with me. Why should I get heavyhanded as such on a music site? That’s no fun.

But let me say, regardless of the weighty subject matter, this is a FUN album, hyperactive pogo punk in the vein of Superchunk or bands of that ilk, which is why it succeeds. Pre-emo pop-punk maybe. Tracks like “Here’s Your Future,” I Might Need You to Kill,” “A Pillar of Salt,” and “Saint Rosa and the Swallows” beg to be blasted from car stereos in the summertime. It’s all terribly enjoyable. (Teenage me smiles like a cat who got into the cream. Isn’t that a saying?)

There’s also a lot of Old Testament imagery. Uh, and I said this was a fun album, right? How is it possible that Old Testament imagery constitutes as fun? Well, naysayers, suck it up, because I think the Old Testament is cool, and I’m cool, not stuffy or boring in the slightest. A lot of weird stuff happens in the Old Testament – you should really read some of it – and I think a punk dissection of it would make great blog fodder. We get nods to Noah and the flood, Abraham and Isaac and the near sacrifice, Lot’s wife, Moses and the plagues, etc. There are also allusions to Jesus and evangelism, juxtaposed against a war-obsessed America and its bizarro foreign policy. The allusions, all very tongue-in-cheek and snarky, quite un-subtly hint at very real anger directed at our current governmental system (“Power Doesn’t Run on Nothing” anyone?). They align the blind allegiance and obedience of politics with that of religious institutions, calling out those who don’t pause and think about what they’re doing, who they’re serving, and who they’re affecting.

One of the most interesting songs (and titles) is “I Might Need You to Kill” with its double requests “I might need you to lead” and the title itself. Obviously, leadership is a huge responsibility, whether you’re talking about a modern country or an ancient civilization – and both are linked here (“locusts, tornados/ crosses and Nazi payloads/ they follow”). The problem, of course, is what to do when your allegiance is unquestioning, and what the consequences are – shit can get reeeeeal out of hand (hello, Hitler and the Third Reich; watch out America). The Thermals are angry at political decisions. I think a lot of us can get behind that.

But in the end, the balance here is what elevates The Body, The Blood, The Machine above other albums that try to make a political statement: the high-energy punk vibe and the intelligent layering of imagery work well together. It’s smart and funny – a soapbox without a sense of humor lands you square on a street corner with a megaphone and disinterest from passersby (unless of course they want to throw stuff at you, and you don’t want that, ever – you never know what they’ll throw).

RIYL: Superchunk, Bratmobile, All Girl Summer Fun Band, early Built to Spill

“A PILLAR OF SALT”

“RETURNING TO THE FOLD”

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