The Thermals with Cymbals Eat Guitars
10 p.m. Friday
One Eyed Jacks, 615 Toulouse St., 569-8361; www.oneeyedjacks.net
China isn't the friendliest place for artists these days, let alone those whose expression includes call-to-arms punk rock concept albums about a fascistic, iron-fisted American future eerily similar to the Chinese present. (Sample lyric from 2006 bone-crusher The Body, The Blood, The Machine: "Fear me again, know I'm your father/ Remember that no one can breathe underwater.") So, Westin Glass: How was it for one of the world's most inciting bands to play in one of the most intolerant countries on the planet?
"Mind blowing," says Glass, drummer for Portland, Ore.'s the Thermals. "We'd never been to China, never had any exposure there, don't have any records out there. Your average Chinese person probably has not heard of our band. ... It made me a little scared for the future of the world, to be honest. When I got back to Portland I literally kissed the ground."
The screening process that ensnares many visiting performers somehow missed the Thermals — despite song titles like "I Might Need You to Kill," whose red flags come out flapping ("Locusts, tornadoes/ Crosses and Nazi halos"). "I heard some stuff about bands having to submit a video of their performance," Glass says. "We didn't have to go through any of that. We were nervous about the whole thing. There were so many things to be scared about. But in the end it was super easy."
The get-out-of-jail-free card may have been the relatively reined-in twin LPs the band has released since The Machine, which was captured at the peak of what it read as a path to warmongering insanity. Follow-up Now We Can See (2008) and September's Personal Life (Kill Rock Stars), while reinforcing the overdriven guitar charges and steamrolled vocal hooks that define the band, abandon the heavy-handed political and religious grenade lobbing in favor of more figurative, oblique lyrics about death and rebirth. Says Glass on the new record's theme of disintegrating relationships, "There's a lot of truth to it. It's definitely inspired by real life. But also artistic license."
For the recording, the Thermals returned to prolific producer Chris Walla (Death Cab For Cutie, Decemberists), who engineered second album F—in A (2004). The result is scrubbed pop/punk that spotlights the simple-yet-indelible melodies at the heart of singer/guitarist Hutch Harris and bassist Kathy Foster's songwriting.
"The whole record's completely analog: recorded on tape, mixed to tape, mastered from tape directly to vinyl," Glass says. "Chris is a wizard with all this old analog gear he has and that they have at (Portland's) Jackpot! (Studio), microphones and amp placements. The guitar solos on Personal Life, I love so much — there were like eight amps and 12 microphones involved. He has a million little tricks that are so cool."
An example? "At the end of the first track there's this little backwards guitar chord. The way we did that is that Chris actually took the tape off the machine and flipped it over, and we recorded a guitar chord backwards onto the tape," Glass says.
The sound was inspired less by contemporaries than by classic records the band was listening to at the time: ZZ Top and Thin Lizzy. "We love that really tight, really dry sound of those records. The second-to-last Cribs record (2007's Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever) is also really dry — everything is right up in your face. It's just such a cool way to make a record, and it's something that not many people are doing these days. Right now it's like there's tons of reverb on everything, which is fine. But not what we wanted to do."