REVIEW: The Thermals: More Parts Per Million
The Thermals: More Parts Per Million [Subpop, 2003] (mp3)
Three words? Dragon-Free Brief Rock
The Thermals debut is an exercise in indie-rock efficiency. Thirteen songs deep and clocking in at just over twenty-seven minutes, there is not a moment wasted on More Parts Per Million. No instrumental build-ups. No drastic mid-song tempo changes. No keyboards. Just fast and lovable rock songs from start to finish.
Being a true lo-fi effort, The Thermals' murky recording quality (home-recorded four-track, deftly mixed by Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla) and song brevity will immediately draw comparisons to the early work of Guided by Voices. And while lead Thermal, Hutch Harris, does fire off (and abandon) ingenious hooks & melodies at a Bob Pollard-like pace, the band has kept at least one foot in the door of old school punk rock (also: no songs about elves or dragons). Their no-nonsense recipe of furious speed and technical simplicity makes for some fun songs, but their impassionate style also accentuates the emotional rawness in Harris' strained vocals, particularly on songs like "No Cultural Icons" and "A Passing Feeling."
The production limitations on More Parts Per Million give the songs a welcoming charm as well. Had this been a slick studio-production, the cheap reverb vocal-effect on "My Little Machine," the drumstick count-in on "Overgrown, Overblown!" and feedback squall that punctuates "No Culture Icons" would have been immediately Pro-Tooled out of the mix. But it is these "flaws" that give The Thermals an authentic appeal.
More Parts Per Million is fun, smart, unpretentious rock music that plays end-to-end without any track skipping or fast-forwarding necessary. And it's a godsend to anyone who has ever been left with a minute and half left to fill at the end of a mix tape.