The Thermals

Fuckin A

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With a title that's as much a call to arms as a call to rock out, the Thermals' Fuckin A offers a darker, more developed version of the passionate, in-the-red indie rock of their debut, More Parts Per Million. The most immediately noticeable difference between the two albums is the sound quality: instead of recording most of the songs to a cassette player in Hutch Harris' kitchen, as the band did with their first album, this time the Thermals spent four days in a more traditional studio with friend/producer/Death Cab for Cutie guitarist/organist Chris Walla. The result is an album that sounds cleaner but still keeps most of the band's ramshackle energy. However, the Thermals have different reasons to sound urgent on Fuckin A than they did on More Parts Per Million; though that album's "No Culture Icons" tackled the politics of the indie scene, much of Fuckin A is just straight-up political, a response to the war in Iraq and other events in America and in the world that transpired after their debut was released. The switch to a moderately cleaner sound for this album pays off well in this regard, if only because it's easier to hear Harris' smart, talky lyrics with a few layers of static stripped from them. On songs like "End to Begin," "When You're Thrown," and "God and Country" -- on which he sneers, "Pray for a new state, pray for assassination" -- Harris balances the power of protest chants with the same intricate wordplay and internal rhymes that made it worth dividing his lyrics from More Parts Per Million's wash of noise. Even the songs that aren't overtly political still have political leanings: on "A Stare Like Yours," described by Harris as an "aggressive love song," he sings, "When you don't have control, you have to pretend." Likewise, "Forward" and "Remember Today" have a bouncy idealism that stands in sharp contrast to Fuckin A's more charged moments. "Keep Time," one of the best songs the Thermals have yet written, is both upbeat and political, an anthem about trying to keep some hope even in challenging times. Owing to its themes, Fuckin A is a shade or two less exuberant than More Parts Per Million, but it's no less passionate or energetic, and it proves the Thermals can introduce new sounds and ideas into their music without losing what made them worth listening to in the first place.

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