For God's Sake

The Thermals have fun with fundamentalism.

If Focus on the Family's James Dobson ever becomes dictator of these United States, ownership of The Body The Blood The Machine, the latest CD by the Portland, Oregon-based Thermals, will be punishable by days on the rack or weeks of "re-education lessons" -- whichever is more painful. That's because the disc is a dystopian concept album about fundamentalism run amok that features a God who's ready, willing and able to mete out some mighty tough love. Take "Here's Your Future," the recording's first track, in which the Big Guy declares, "Fear Me again, know I'm your father/ Remember that no one can breathe underwater."

Thermals singer-songwriter/guitarist Hutch Harris doesn't come from an atheistic background. "My family would go to church every single Sunday, and I'd go to CCD classes on Wednesday," he says. "And in high school, I used to be really involved with Christian clubs and stuff." However, he grew disillusioned when the Catholic parish he attended began to make decisions that he considered to be solely motivated by money; he recalls that in order to rent out their building to non-denominational groups, the facility's elders even took down the cross. Incidents like this one spurred other doubts, and before long, "I started to dislike the institution of religion, the organization of it," he notes. "I just saw that there was so much hypocrisy in the Church -- especially the Catholic Church, with everything that came out about the priest abuses and all the coverups." In his opinion, the rise of Pope Benedict XIV hasn't helped matters. "That guy seems like kind of a nasty bastard to me," Harris concedes, adding that the pontiff's recent criticism of Islam "wasn't really a good idea. It's like, 'Let's get the Vatican bombed.' Fuck!"

Harris probably ejaculated profanities like this one when Thermals drummer Jordan Hudson decided to split late last year, just prior to the planned recording of The Body, the band's third release for the venerable Sub Pop imprint. He and the group's remaining member, bassist Kathy Foster, wound up handling all the instrumental duties on fierce tracks such as "Returning to the Fold" and "A Pillar of Salt" under the supervision of producer/Fugazi vet Brendan Canty. Nevertheless, the finished product sounds much more full-bodied than its relatively lo-fi predecessors, 2003's More Parts Per Million and 2004's Fuckin A. "We did our first record on a four-track, so it was weird and scrappy and little," Harris says. "That was cool -- but why would we ever want to do that again? Because we already have one like that."

The Thermals put the heat on organized religion.
The Thermals put the heat on organized religion.

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He also has a pair of new helpers: drummer Lorin Coleman and guitarist Joel Burrows, who's previously played with the Minders, a band that relocated from Denver to the Pacific Northwest. Together, the quartet is honing Harris's message, which seems less far-fetched with each passing day. "The idea is kind of crazy," he maintains, "but some people I've heard from think it's talking point-blank about exactly what's going on right now."

That's bad news for future president Dobson.

 
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