Saddle Creek has been known as an Omaha-centric label featuring home grown talent like Bright Eyes, The Faint, and anything Tim Kasher decides to be in. Their first big non-Omaha band was Los Angeles’ Rilo Kiley. Now the label has gone to Portland to recruit The Thermals away from Sub Pop. But unlike Rilo Kiley who were promising rookies when they signed to Saddle Creek, The Thermals are wily veterans. Their last album, Personal Life showed signs that the band might have lost a step but can they regain form under a new label?
As in previous campaigns, Desperate Ground get off to a hot start with “Born To Kill.” The track features Hutch Harris’ signature shouting vocals with a hint of distortion on them. The rhythm section propels the song forward like a runaway train but its only the first song; of course, the Thermals still have fresh legs. Personal Life started out great as well before slowing down for tracks like “I Don’t Believe You.” But this time around, the Thermals committed to a training program to help them not breakdown throughout the album. The “Born to Kill” pace and style sustains throughout the album. But while speed is an important component, its not everything. The album’s third track “I Go Alone” sounds joyless. Hutch Harris’ voice never sounds indignant nor sincere (part of that is the personality draining distortion that is put on the vocals). The same four chords are played over and over creating a sterile sound.
Following the disappointing performance the Thermals deliver “The Sword By My Side.” I’m surprised they weren’t fined for bringing a weapon to a song. The track returns some of the vim and vigor to the band with Hutch regaining the personality in his vocals despite the continued use of distortion. That vigor sticks with the band until their final track, “Our Love Survives.” Having already clinched a good album, the track is a victory lap–a little slow on tempo yet a triumphant tone. It is an apt performance but shows a little of the end of the album wear-and-tear.
Ultimately, Desperate Ground proves that the Thermals still have something to offer a label like Saddle Creek. Whether or not they will be a fit long term is yet to be seen but for this album, they did their job.
MP3: The Thermals “The Sword By My Side”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl