The Thermals

Plus CD reviews of Pajo, Wooden Wand and the Sky High Band, and Strange Fruit Project.

The Thermals

The Body, the Blood, the Machine

(Sub Pop)

The Ramones represented the punk-rock royalty of their time, but it was the group's third album, the 1977 shredder Rocket to Russia, that signaled their graduation from stoopid to stupid fresh: By adding some sonic fidelity and a couple of tricksy chords, the boys elevated their game and blew the lid off the genre. The same holds true for Portland, Ore., punks the Thermals on their third LP: Reduced to a core duo of Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster after the departure of original drummer Jordan Hudson last year, the band knuckles down, digs deep, and pulls out the album of its career. The Body, the Blood, the Machine is the sound of a band getting better ("St. Rosa and the Swallows"), growing bolder (the religious right–baiting "A Pillar of Salt"), and busting bollocks (every other track) simultaneously. Taking to heart the Clash's old mantra, "Anger can be power," the group spits out a pseudo–concept album about the disastrous consequences of the Bush Era, harnessing its inner Dee Dee in service of 10 three-chord therapy sessions that wash over you like a cleansing gasoline bath. Strike match, add flame, and run like hell. COREY DUBROWA

Pajo

1968

(Drag City)

David Pajo's work with Slint will forever remain a jewel in the indie-rock crown, but, thankfully, the story didn't end there. Over the last decade, he's recorded under the Papa M/Aerial M moniker, spent time mining Americana with the scraggly bearded Will Oldham, and dealt with Billy Corgan's temper tantrums in the ill-fated Zwan. It seems Brother Oldham's hands left more fingerprints than Mr. Pumpkin's, as can be heard in Pajo's recent solo work. His new effort, 1968, combines hints of the spacey post-rock of his early-'90s oeuvre with his more recent Appalachian excursions. Eyelashes are batted at pop conventions on this unique take on roots music, as synth bubbles float and burst on the lolling "Wrong Turn," and the pleasantly melodic vocals of "Foolish King" enhance its classic-rock vibes. 1968 tempers its creeping dread with a feeling of warmth, as Pajo continues to expand upon folk and rock with aplomb and vigor. JONAH FLICKER

Wooden Wand and the Sky High Band

Second Attention

(Kill Rock Stars)

I never did buy into Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice's psychedelic Jesus tent revival shtick. But I do dig the songwriting and leaden drawl of James Jackson Toth (aka Wooden Wand). His solo debut from 2005, Harem of the Sundrum & the Witness Figg, is just a really well-crafted collection of lo-fi folk-rock exploding with a cryptic lyricism that I've spent many hours picking apart. Now, Second Attention isn't the total surprise that its predecessor was. Several of the midtempo anthems featuring just voice and guitar (including "Sweet Xiao Li" and "Crucifixion, Pt. II") are obvious retreads. Then again, the tracks that were recorded with the Sky High Band—an ad hoc outfit featuring members of Davenport and the Skygreen Leopards—see Toth opening up his cracked, bedroom-recording aesthetic to a more expansive, West Coast roots-rock vibe composed of country shuffles, piano, pedal steel, and a little reverb-drenched ax work. It's this stuff that ultimately makes Second Attention a pretty darn good record, with one cut in particular, the seven-minute epic "Dead Sue," simply blowing me away. JUSTIN F. FARRAR

Strange Fruit Project

The Healing

(Om Records)

Strange Fruit Project hail from Texas, but apart from the twangy accents, the group sounds nothing like Houston's chopped and screwed thugs and grill pushers. The crew's remarkably soulful sound begs for comparisons to early Slum Village, or perhaps a post-neo- soul Native Tongues. Its rhymes similarly eschew materialist fantasies, preferring instead to focus on social commentary and expressions of being. Equal parts iPod head-nodder, ride-along companion, and club buddy, The Healing is that rare rap album that's spiritual without being corny, relevant without being trendy, and dope without boasting about narcotics transactions. S1, Myth, and Myone's mellifluous mike skills ("The harder we write/The harder we spit it/The harder the struggle/The more reason there is for us to live it") makes you realize what hip-hop used to be, how much you missed it, and how good it feels to hear it again. S1's production is on par with 9th Wonder (who guest-produces "Special") for new-school excellence. SFP's execution is so tight, collaborations with Little Brother and Erykah Badu aren't even the best tracks on one of the most original (and best) hip-hop albums you'll hear this year. Just listen to "Good Times"—which mixes P-Funk choral arrangements, an up-tempo beat layered with strings and guitars, and party-hearty lyrics that never lapse into stupidity—and you'll want all of the strange fruit you can stomach. ERIK K. ARNOLD

 
comments powered by Disqus