There’s no doubt that the current state of religion, as well as our nation’s political agenda, are providing endless amounts of substance for musicians across the board. It’s getting to the point where it would be more subversive for a rock band or hip-hop act to make a record about being a devout Catholic and a card-carrying Republican. The Bush administration seems to be the special ingredient that when added to already-angst-ridden musicians gives them the power to go platinum.
That being said, The Body, The Blood, The Machine is the holy grail of anti-political/anti-religion records to come out in the last seven years. The record captures a sentiment that many others have attempted and failed to provide, mostly due to a lack of truly connecting with the listener musically, lyrically and emotionally. But this album is a venting of honest emotions, and listening to it is therapeutic. Frontman Hutch Harris points out the ironies and contradictions within religion and politics that should resonate with anyone who has ever questioned these institutions.
Harris’s take on religion and politics is the unrelenting theme on the Thermals’ third full-length, but the lyrics are just a small part of this record’s charm. Harris, along with original bass player Kathy Foster, wrote and played all of the music on The Body, The Blood, The Machine after original drummer Jordan Hudson left the band during recording. What they put together doesn’t necessarily chart any new territory musically, but it pays homage to the early-’90s post-punk sound. The Body picks up where the Chapel Hill bands left off, and the music has the perfect touch of melody, power, aggression and humility to it the ultimate draw to this record.
That sound provides a backdrop to the lyrics, adding honesty to the emotions contained within them. That can be felt from the moment the record starts, as Harris sings on “Here’s Your Future” “God reached his hand down from the sky, he flooded the land and he set it on fire,” over a chord progression that’s impossible to turn away from. The emotions carry through the entirely cohesive record, lightening up only on the sixth track, “Test Pattern,” in which Harris forgets about religion and politics for a minute to make a subtle plea for a relationship to a lover. Even this track benefits from the perfect combination of music and lyrics: With a hint of desperation, Harris suggests, “So you can call this a test pattern, so you don’t have to commit.” Meanwhile, the guitar, bass and drums create a minimalist sound, beautiful in its simplicity.
The Body, The Blood, The Machine does more than blow off steam about the troubles of religion and politics: It sums up the views of many who are fed up with these issues while at the same time providing more aspects of each to contemplate. And musically, it contains some of the best aspects of indie rock. Clearly, the Thermals were on to something with their previous releases, but they’ve really nailed it here. Thankfully, something good has come out of the last seven years of political follies and the political dominance of the Christian right.