The Thermals - Personal Life
Record Label: Kill Rock Stars
Release Date: September 7, 2010
To all the 18 and 19-year-olds reading this: three years changes a lot. Nobody our age is the same person they were at 16. That person could be a shell of our present self, someone morally better or worse, or a polar opposite. However we’ve evolved, the switch from high school to college (if it’s the path chosen) is I think what has the biggest effect on all of it. Meeting new people, being separated from your previous home life, the first true glimpse of independence; it all gives you the ability to become a completely new person. One of the biggest effects it had on me personally was that I could now listen to any music I pleased without being chastised by my close-minded high school friends. Now while it might be a year late and not nearly as influential on my life, I feel like I’ve found the album that would’ve perfectly scored the transition myself and many others went or are going through.
The Thermals are a ‘best of both worlds’ type of deal. Not in the sense that they’re taking two great things, bonding them together, and cranking out something absolutely mind-blowing and unprecedented. I’m aiming more towards they’re taking two completely different fields, inaccessible indie aspects (such as loud & brash guitar effects, and lo-fi/raw production), and mixing it with extremely accessible pop aspects (such as catchy melodies, ah’s & oh’s, and simplistic rhythms) to produce one musical mudblood, so to speak. Is it unique? Fairly. Is it better than the small amount of groups doing this sound? Definitely.
Fine-tuning and honing in for nearly a decade, The Thermals are a band that sound like they know where they want to be at this point in their career. With Personal Life being the first of their releases I’ve listened to, I get the feeling that this is a group that’s struggled with finding their own place in the industry in the past. However, now working with Chris Walla, the concept of ‘making it,’ at least at this point in the indie scene, is long behind them, and the full focus is on making the best album possible, and after listening to some of their past works, I can say Personal Life is most certainly a contender.
After enjoying the important things on the record, my eye (or ears, rather) was caught by the small details, and I noticed a few little things that added to my enjoyment of the record. After seven or eight listens of the album, I started (as I always do) to hear some other bands in the music. Stuff like the Pixies, some Sonic Youth, in that vein. I was a little confused by why my brain was going that direction, so I looked at the band roster: their bassist/background singer is a female. Sonically, it’s nothing huge. It’s a very minuscule comparison that I somehow made, but I feel that other fans of those bands would eventually make that connection, which could be crucial, because that’s a big fan base.
The second small ‘fun fact,’ if you will, relates to my opener, the whole high school to college transition, and comes much more in handy. For those of you still awaiting this turning point, heed this disclaimer: This album unintentionally tackles the problems and situations the average college student will face. I mention the meshing of two fields earlier, but where it really gets eerie is the lyrical content. What definitely wasn’t meant to be a concept album about the American education system could easily be interpreted as that. ‘I’m gonna change your life, I’m gonna steal your soul/I’ll keep you warm at night, I’ll leave you in the cold,’ the opening lines on the record could easily have been written by my university, and I would’ve said, ‘Yeah, that sounds about right.’ Songs like ‘Alone, A Fool,’ ‘Not Like Any Other Feeling,’ ‘I Don’t Believe You’ and ‘You Changed My Life’ all sound like they should be played at some welcome week program for the school that’s showcasing possible problems and roadblocks the student may occur.
Were these songs written with a different subject matter in mind? Oh, I’m almost positive. That’s the beauty about music. I can point out a certain angle, and even if it feels forced upon someone, the second that person forms a new connection, mine disappears. As a struggling college student, though, and certainly not the only one, I felt this angle would help many people connect with a multi-leveled album that’s, at its core, just great. Whatever grade you’re in, whatever you’re majoring in, listen to this record. It’s fantastic at any point in life.
I think this album has some nice songs, but I feel like Hutch Harris did better lyrically ( Fuckin' A, The Body, the Blood, the Machine) when his words string together in freestlyes. At times it feels repetitive here and the hooks don't have the same force as when the lyrics are driving home points and images on top of them. Personal Life reminds me of the pre-Thermals Hutch & Kathy/Urban Legends recordings that are lot more pop and a lot less punk.