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The Thermals – Desperate Ground (Saddle Creek)

As time and culture move swiftly on, it can sometimes come as a bit of a jolt  to realise the bands  you once knew  back to front are now suddenly old news. A good example that  fits this mould is The Thermals who these days probably come under the banner  of  a ‘cult’ act. Despite having a few releases on the legendary Sub Pop and critical acclaim from  various sources, real success has somehow eluded the Portland trio. But their brand of trad US indie rock, like bands such as The Hold Steady and Titus Andronicus, is perfectly honed and their sixth effort Desperate Ground (their first release on Saddle Creek), is very much a Ronseal record. In other words, we know what we’re getting.

Opener ‘Born To Kill’, which platforms frontman Hutch  Harris’s  angst-ridden vocals, sets the scene with a short, punchy number clocking up just under a couple of minutes. More powerpop goodness  follows in the form of ‘You Will Be Free’ and ‘The Sunset’, exactly the  tunes that will make perfect staples on a college radio playlist. Sadly, inspiration appears to fly out of the window briefly with ‘I Go Alone’, the type of track REM would have been proud of in the final days of their career. But the band is  back on track with the likes of ‘The Sword By The Side Of Me’ and ‘You Will Find Me’. This is what we have come to expect of  The Thermals and, good though their signature sound is, a bit of you yearns for them to throw in some twist or variation from time to time. Prayers are briefly answered when ‘The Howl Of The Winds’ takes a different turn and by reducing the energy just a fraction makes its mark on this ten track opus.. Disappointingly, the last two tracks are too easily erased from the memory as they limp towards the finishing line.

Undoubtedly, this is the sound that has been developed ‘for the fans’ and many will see it as  a definitive return to form. For casual listeners of the band The Thermals have earned their place under the North America indie rock umbrella but Desperate Ground may at best be something of a “grower”.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.