by Ali Glembocki
Desperate Ground is dashboard punk at its finest, something to scream to when you’re not sure what to scream about.
The Thermals are following a similar path as the one taken by New Jersey punk legends Titus Andronicus, who went from a sonically and thematically complex masterpiece to a “back to basics” garage punk approach.
Titus Andronicus found a masterpiece in their 2010 sophomore effort The Monitor, an album that sampled verses from Abraham Lincoln speeches and had titles like “Four Score and Seven” and “The Battle of Hampton Roads,” and still somehow became an album’s worth of anthems for angsty New Jersey suburbanites. Andronicus veered away from experimentation and proclaimed that “PUNK IS BACK” with their latest, 2012’s Local Business. While the jams are delicious, they’re lacking an intoxicating bravado.
The Thermals’ respective chef d’oeuvre was 2006’s The Body, The Blood, The Machine, an album taking on everything from an impending Orwellian future “Returning to the Fold”) to biblical allusions (“A Pillar of Salt”). Such a highly political and lyrically kickass album (the guitar riffs, particularly on “A Pillar Of Salt,” are like candy) makes truly solid albums like Desperate Ground pale in comparison. The most infectious track is the opener “Born To Kill,” a vague but rallying battle cry with sincere vocals from Hutch Harris.
After coming down from the high of “Born to Kill,” you slowly come to realize that Desperate Ground is chock full of similarly flavored inspirational tracks. With the one-note theme of “kick ass, take names” and thrashing guitars, you can’t help but feel like Brick in Anchorman when he bursts, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT WE’RE YELLING ABOUT!” The music lacks lyrical and sonic variation.
With a plentiful amount of calls to action, a reason to kill is finally defined on the closing track, “Our Love Survives” when Hutch sings: “Our love is true, that’s why we fight.” Love may be the noblest of causes, Thermals, but it’s always better to show than to tell.