Sub Pop has always been a coin-toss. While they continue to infuriate me with some of the most tepid crud ever to gnaw on yer eardrums (uh, Dum Dum Girls? Really?), they still manage to pull some serious jams out of the fire. Hidden in their back catalogue are some rad gems that, for whatever reason, never really got their due back in the day. Thankfully, the label’s re-release campaign is finally giving these lost classics the vinyl treatment they so richly deserve.
Being introduced to the vinyl groove for the first time is the Sub Pop discography from Portland’s the Thermals, starting with 2003’s More Parts Per Million followed by Fuckin’ A (2004) and The Body, the Blood, the Machine (2006). This should be a revelation for anybody who loves the glorious tape hiss of lo-fi pop. Although their first three efforts are sure bets, their utterly brilliant debut remains my main jammer.
On More Parts Per Million, an album that remains the band’s true classic, the recording and all instruments are handled solely by vocalist/songwriter/guitarist Hutch Harris. Sure, their lo-fi blast perfectly matched by pure pop brilliance will instantly recall Robert Pollard’s Guided by Voices, but in many ways, Harris actually beats Pollard at his own game. Ramshackle drums lead the charge with a punk rock wallop as Harris croons over top like he really means it — man. Don’t get me wrong — I’m hardly flying a flag for lo-fi warble at this late juncture. Sadly, sonic saboteurs often use this econo recording method to hide musical flaws or for a quick calling card, but Harris doesn’t want to join any clubs, and truthfully his voice really does blossom in the squelch. Although the Thermals have never released a dud, this debut is just too good to pass up the second time around, ringing with a sense of urgency that the current crop of lo-fi, PBR-chugging teens just can’t grasp.
If you’re just digging into the DIY U.K. scene of the late ’80s — like the Television Personalities, Swell Maps and Kiwi four-trackers Tall Dwarfs and the Clean — you need to grab this freshly pressed wax. Easily one of the best lo-fi gems you’ll likely ever hear.
Best of all, Harris is bringing the Thermals to town this week, so check out Wednesday’s listings and make the scene.
You are the scene!
Tuesday – The week starts off with my pick of the week: Norway’s Kvelertak lay down their twin lead, sludge punk/metal wallop down at Katacombes. Although this Oslo Rock City crew is sure to pummel, there is also the sludge duo of Black Tusk and Montreal’s heaviest band the Great Sabatini warming up the room. This entire night will kill, so get there early!
Wednesday – In case you missed my reach-around in the intro, you can check out the Thermals’ punk-fuelled pop genius at Il Motore, with Reversing Falls and Nanimal.
Thursday – The second annual One Man Band Festival gets underway tonight and rolls into the weekend with over 40 artists strewn over 10 venues, with workshops and other treats, too. Get to Casa tonight to catch Montreal treasure Bloodshot Bill with Washboard Hank and Ana Bon Bon.
Friday – A guaranteed good time would be to check out the Fishing With John Q&A session with Lounge Lizard John Lurie, hosted by Eric Cohen. If you haven’t seen the Criterion edition of Lurie’s side-splitting Fishing With John TV series, better start your search engines now. This will all happen in the heart of Old Montreal, at the PHI Centre.
One of the most fugged-up hip hop acts around is Blunt Fang, who will fuck up the program at la Brique with the equally twisted sounds of Hua Li, Stevej. R, Institutional Prostitution and DJs Bus & River Lance, Tommy Kruise and Babi Audi.
For some straight-up hardcore and metal, check out Other Factors, Scarlet Beast and Mad Parish offshoot band Cro-Magnum at Crobar.
Saturday – Halifax post-punk/psych band Crosss will launch their Obsidian Spectre record with the Pink Noise and Dyscontrol at the greatest little bar in Little Italy, Brasserie Beaubien.
Just down the street from Brasserie Beaubien will be the lush sounds of Valleys at Kathy & Kimy, with Weeknight and Joseph Gabereau.
Finally, don’t miss a chance to see the kings of Montreal n.w.o.B.h.m and classic thrash, Metalian, when they level Bistro de Paris with blues-fuelled punkers Ashtray Heart and ex-Starvin’ Hungry cats Half Measures. ■
Current obsession: Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation box set