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The Thermals: Raw-Throated but High-Minded

The Thermals' members craft an unusually nuanced punk-rock anthem.
The Thermals' members craft an unusually nuanced punk-rock anthem.

Hutch Harris, leader of the Oregon garage-punk band The Thermals, is a man of many words. The group's messy-sounding guitars and raw production aesthetic have always suited Harris' raw-throated but high-minded rants, and right from the start of "Returning to the Fold," it's clear that he means business. He howls the first line, "I regret leaving my sooooooooooooooooooul" rather than spitting it out in his customary bark, stretching that single syllable out for so long that it gives listeners time to think about what he's singing before he gets to the end of the word.

It's a considerate move on Harris' part, given how much food for thought he packs into the song's 2 minutes and 39 seconds. What's left behind when you reject religion, he's asking, and what happens when that absence starts feeling less like a cure and more like an aching hole? Is there a place for people who see things both ways?

Over a grungy guitar riff, Harris brings that anthemic howl roaring back again and again, but anthems aren't usually this nuanced. Pop musicians either love God and love their church, or yearn to escape the shackles of both. Count "Returning to the Fold" as part of a slim but emotionally powerful minority, then. It's one of the smartest, most honest depictions of religious anxiety in pop music, and it rocks to boot.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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