The Thermals - Desperate Ground (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Thermals

Desperate Ground (2013)

Saddle Creek

To the casual observer, The Thermals might seem like a one-trick pony. While their brand of power-pop punk uses a "keep it simple, stupid" approach, they have made a conscious effort towards subtle changes from record to record. In recent years, their poppiest effort, 2009's Now We Can See was followed by the slightly-disappointing but necessary divergence to a slower, more restrained set on 2010's Personal Life. Even The Thermals need a breather now and then.

On Desperate Ground, their first for Saddle Creek, single and opener "Born to Kill" offers us a brand of Thermals with a harshness we haven't heard since 2004's Fuckin A. The tempo is back in their wheelhouse, the vocals are dirtied up with distortion, and the lyrical content is well, darker, than the themes of love and relationships from their last outing. Drummer Westin Glass, in his second album with the trio, gets more chances for flourishes in this speedier set, offering up more fills and details than when bassist Kathy Foster was sitting on the kit in the studio.

"I Go Alone" is an obvious favorite, with Hutch Harris' knack for giving us chorus bits easy to grab onto and sing along with: "The path is all I see / It's the only wayyy / I can bring you back to me." This and "The Sunset" aren't exactly pedal-to-the-metal, but the aggressiveness and grit are turned up. "The Sword by my Side" is drawing from a similar lyrical well as Now We Can See, leaning on their favorite tidbit from that album: "when I die." "Where I Stand" ups the shouting quotient a bit and loses some melody, but then "Our Love Survives" ends the set like a remnant of Personal Life from its lyrical content to mid-tempo groove.

While Desperate Ground is neither their harshest nor catchiest record but it's close on both counts. This batch of tunes has got enough of everything The Thermals do best to satisfy their die-hards (who might call it a "return to form") and would even be a good jumping-off point for new fans. Another enjoyable release from the Portland trio.