- Tipped off by a positive NY Times review by Kelefa Sanneh, I got “The Body, the Blood, the Machine,” the new album by the Thermals, a Portland band, and it has been steadily knocking me out. Musically it’s relatively simple — flawlessly executed classic pop-punk in the Buzzcocks-to-Green Day tradition. Lyrically it appears to be a narrative song cycle. At first I thought its Biblically infused verses (full of Noah’s ark references and titles like “Pillar of Salt”) might be about a Heaven’s Gate-style cult, but I read on the band’s Web site that “the album tells the story of a young couple who must flee a United States governed by fascist faux-Christians,” which makes things a little clearer. It’s as if someone took American Idiot, subtracted the teen anomie and the Tommy-style riffs on celebrity, and injected it with a little bit of the acid from the Dead Kennedys’ “Holiday in Cambodia.” I’m finding it irresistible.
- I’m also enjoying the new Mother Hips release, Kiss the Crystal Flake. This Northern California band’s sound — straying over the years from jam-band to country rock to folk and now neo-psychedelia — has always hovered on the edge of derivative cliche only to be rescued by great vocal harmonies, smart lyrics and a devotion to the sheer sonic pleasure of a well-played guitar well recorded.
- We got a piano for my sons to learn on a while back, which means I can pursue my half-baked musical noodling on multiple instruments now. The other day I started playing the old Eno chestnut “St. Elmo’s Fire” — the kids love it! — and realized, in a flash, that its chord progression is almost identical to that of Elvis’s “Burning Love.” This is the sort of realization you are in an especially good position to experience if your piano-playing, like mine, consists of sounding out simple triads, because you are stripping the music down to its chordal essence (a nice way of saying that you make most of what you play sound the same).
[tags]thermals, mother hips[/tags]