The Thermals

SXSW Records

Phases and Stages

The Thermals

More Parts Per Million (Sub Pop) Everybody loves an indie rock fairy tale like this: In the space of four months, a quartet of erstwhile scene veterans form a side-project band on a lark, record a slew of incendiary living-room demos for $60 and wind up inking a deal with Sub Pop. That's what happened to Portland, Ore.'s the Thermals, and their debut disc is the best $60 album you'll hear this year. Recorded in vocalist Hutch Harris' abode (and mixed by Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla), More Parts Per Million revels in distorted, lo-fi counterintuitiveness to the point where it becomes a fifth member of the band. While their approach parallels that of Guided by Voices to a degree, the Thermals shred through their sneering pop slop with a punk purpose that recalls the Undertones and Buzzcocks. Contributing to the latter tangent is Harris' inflamed warble, which effectively channels the barely repressed ire of both Pete Shelley and Feargal Sharkey. Tunes like "A Passing Feeling" and "Born Dead" are VU meter-pinning exercises in bop-happy melancholia that become redemptive when cranked, but the album's designated hitter is "No Culture Icons," a superb excoriation of artistic pretension driven by the memorable refrain, "Hardly art, hardly starving, hardly art, hardly garbage." Razor-sharp wit with no loss of energy? This is the stuff rock & roll house-party dreams are made of. (Red Eyed Fly, Saturday, March 15, 1am)

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