Desperate Ground, The Thermals’ newest LP and debut for Saddle Creek, was produced by John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth) in Hoboken, NJ. Agnello and The Thermals completed the record and evacuated the studio just hours before Hurricane Sandy ravaged New Jersey, a fate quite fitting when you consider the product. Desperate Ground is a true scrappy and scratchy return-to-form for The Thermals, with all the raw power and unhinged adolescent energy that made their early LP’s so insanely enjoyable.
Lyrically, Desperate Ground is a brash and irresponsible ode to human violence, a black celebration of the inevitability of war and death. A dark and yet joyous affair, Desperate Ground tells the (murky) tale of a lone rogue in the night. One man, one path, one sword. An unceasing urge to destroy. A never-ending battle against the forces of nature. A destiny impossible to avoid.
Kicking off with the previously released single Born To Kill the band sets the pace for the remainder of the album and leave you no room to catch your breath from thereon in.
The allover sound and tempo of the album is much closer to their first three records than to Now We Can See (2009) and Personal Life (2010) which set a slower pace. It’s probably no coincidence that their former label Sub Pop decided to re-release their first three records More Parts Per Million (2003), Fuckin A (2004) and the critically acclaimed The Body, The Blood, The Machine (2006) which turned me – and probably many others – into a Thermals follower.
The Thermals have always been a rather political punk band, The Body… dealt mostly with the Bush government and the role of the USA in the world. This note is somehow absent from Desperate Ground. Of course, war is a political theme, but they made ten songs about it and none of them seems to convey a deeper message apart from the obvious one. This doesn’t make the songs less good but it equally doesn’t make them better. Instead we are graced with words of wisdom and universal such as “The ones you will hurt are the closest to you” (The Sunset) and self-references “Yeah, when I die” (The Sword By My Side cf. When I Died). Even Born To Kill could be understood as a sequel (or prequel?) to I Might Need You To Kill from The Body…
Desperate Ground is in many ways a typical album: fast and loud. The rough edge and the pace put it right in line with their older records. Unfortunately, the lyrics feel a littler weaker than on their previous three records, but maybe that’s just because they’re so set on the theme of war, weapons and killing. Regardless, Desperate Ground is how The Thermals sound in 2013 and it will blow you away.
A special edition of the album which includes the album demos will be available on vinyl on record store day (April 20th). The regular album is available as of now.