The Thermals

The Thermals

I don’t know how to write a bio for an album. I’ve never written one.

I’m a comedian. My job is to talk onstage for long enough that the trapped, drunken audience has to buy more chicken wings from the club. I am not qualified to write about music. And yet here I am, writing a bio for the new Thermals record, We Disappear. Thank god it’s a great fucking record.

The first time I heard The Thermals was on broken headphones while riding the A Train to Rockaway, Brooklyn, flying mere feet over a frozen Jamaica Bay on a too-bright January morning. I had just fallen in love with a wonderful, terrible woman who was thousands of miles away. I was very fragile, I had no boundaries, and I was the strongest I’d ever been. And that’s how this album feels. There’s a new vulnerability here, but The Thermals’ sound is as strong as it’s ever been.

The Thermals are best at making songs you put on mixtapes named ‘Drunken Sing-alongs When You’re Sad.’ They specialize in late-night, secret conversations about feeling simultaneously romantic and resentful over being raised Catholic. They’re the soundtrack to breaking glass, and an ode to the beauty of brokenness.

They say that the mark of intelligence is the ability to hold two disparate and conflicting truths in the mind at the same time: I am a good person; I am not a good person. We Disappear lives in this delicate, in-between place: at once hard and noisy, while also soft and personal. And seeming contradictions abound on this album. We Disappear is an all-too-real, dark, and intensely personal album – in the past most of singer Hutch Harris’ lyrics have been mostly fictitious tales – about how we try to outrun demise, whether personal or physical. It is an emotional document of how two people can tear each other apart, while simultaneously making you wanna get up and jump around the room.

The deeply dark, yet oddly catchy “Heart Went Cold” plays on the double metaphor of loss of love/life and features the sad realization “I pushed you away”, but is immediately followed by the super poppy “oh-oh oh”. The classic fucking rock anthem “Hey You” is a paranoid fantasy about running from the Grim Reaper as he calls after you, about “being terrified of death,” says Harris, but “a celebration of that feeling as opposed to feeling sad about it.” A surprisingly uplifting eulogy of the death of a relationship, “Thinking Of You” is explained by Harris as “one of the most straight-forward love songs we’ve ever written, a point-blank post-break up song. It’s a song that says exactly what it means. It and a lot of the record are about regret, i.e. still loving someone after a break-up and hanging on to these feelings.”

We Disappear is also about separation in terms of technology, how it can isolate us and impact our relationships, and how humans have embraced it to the point where we’ve already assimilated into it. “The Great Dying” and “Into the Code” examine how we’re so afraid we’re going to be forgotten, or overlooked, that we upload everything about our lives onto the Internet.

Harris explains, “Technology, love and death are the three obsessions of the record. Our privacy used to be so important to us and now everything has changed – we freely offer once private information about relationships and reveal everything about our day-to-day lives. We’re trying to preserve our life digitally so when we’re gone people won’t forget us. We’re using technology to become immortal. You can even set up Facebook and Twitter accounts to continue updating after you die! We Disappear is about how humans fight the inevitable.”

I’m sure you want to know that the record will come out March 25th, 2016 on Saddle Creek, that it features the longest running Thermals line-up of Hutch Harris, Kathy Foster, and Westin Glass, and that it was recorded in Portland, OR at Kung Fu Bakery (The Shins, Tegan and Sara) and in Seattle, WA at The Hall of Justice (Nirvana, Mudhoney), and produced by Chris Walla (formerly of Death Cab For Cutie). But what really matters is that this record GETS IT. It walks that fine line between truth and lies, between death and life, between depression and joy – all the while recognizing that one cannot exist without the other. And it brings us with it. That’s the reason to listen to this record: Because it’s a fucking great album, by an amazing band. Long Live The Thermals.

Hop Along has had multiple lives. First conceptualized as a freak-folk solo act by Frances Quinlan, it progressed towards a fuller sound with the addition of Mark Quinlan on drums, Tyler Long on bass and Joe Reinhart (Algernon Cadwallader, Dogs on Acid) on guitar. Emerging as one of music’s most unique songwriters, the captivating vignettes Frances has weaved tell vivid stories of desperation and weary awakening. Her powerful voice is a spellbinding entity all it’s own, celebratory and raw, and one that can’t be shaken away.

Their new album, Painted Shut, (out on May 5, 2015 via Saddle Creek) is their 2nd full-length (preceded by Get Disowned in 2012). However, this release marks their first time creating as a full-formed entity, arranging everything as a group. It was co-produced, recorded and mixed by John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, etc.) in the great cities of Philadelphia and Brooklyn, and incidentally finished in the shortest span of time the band has ever made anything.

Like their debut, Painted Shut is a series of accounts, a procession of fleeting and repeating characters. However, it diverges from its predecessor in its close-up, controlled approach (most of the album features the band recording live), and more focused portraiture. Whereas Get Disowned calls forth a dreamy collage of protagonists in a tone that’s often anthemic and surreal, Painted Shut is a grounded, less merciful image of many struggling adults (and children) in a severe landscape.

Often depicted in Painted Shut are the two lives of legendary (though generally unknown) musicians, Buddy Bolden and Jackson C. Frank, who were plagued with mental illness until their penniless deaths. Included are accounts of more everyday poverty, abuse, greed; and banal, sub-par behavior. Society is unveiled as a structure that, in reality, was most certainly not built with everyone in mind. Clearly this is difficult subject matter. Yet the songs themselves move unencumbered and easily, forming angular pop anti-anthems, at times jubilant as well as irreverent. Somehow, they are not sad songs. There is joy, in the abandon of Frances’ unforgettable voice, in the exulting choruses. One wakes to a sky that is a bright, ageless blue. It’s morning and so clear outside that multitudes of lives can be seen, in focus despite the distance. All of this is viewed through a window sealed with cracked paint that cannot be opened on either side. That is how we must often view the lives of others, especially when it comes to people who have lived and gone from this world. That’s another story.

Cayetana, a three-piece from Philadelphia, PA, formed a band and a great friendship in early Fall 2011, creating indie punk poppy jams full of raw sound and energy.



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