Sub Pop isn't exactly a label known for dropping bands. In fact, over the years, it has retained some fairly mediocre acts a bit longer than it probably should have.
Portland, Ore.'s, The Thermals is not one of those bands.
Brought to Sub Pop by Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard, The Thermals signed only four months after they formed, in 2002 (or, as they put it in their self-written bio, "the summer of fear and hate"). The group released a trio of fine albums for the label, all of which were well received.
Which makes their recent jump from Sub Pop to Kill Rock Stars—a great label, sure, but one with a lesser profile—a bit hard to grasp.
Maybe it's because KRS recently relocated from Olympia, Wash., to Portland, making it a hometown label for the band. (Sub Pop is, of course, based in Seattle.) In that bio, the band makes its love for Portland pretty obvious. And it's not as if Sub Pop treated them poorly—at least not that they're willing to admit. In an interview with Pitchfork last year, frontman Hutch Harris said that the label "treated us incredibly well, and we never had anything less than full creative control." Instead, the group just seemed to think Kill Rock Stars was the right label, at the right time.
"(Bassist) Kathy (Foster) and I make decisions on instinct, on feeling. We go with our hearts. Kill Rock Stars showed an enthusiasm that was unrivaled, and they offered us everything we wanted in a contract."
Now that that's settled, let's have a listen to the band's first album for KRS, Now We Can See, released in April of this year. In short, this album could have come out on Blue Note, and it would still be a Thermals record—the label may have changed, but the band remains the same, even if it has matured a bit. And that means 11 short, sharp, punky pop tunes bursting with hooks. Sure, they're no longer the scrappy kids they were back in 2003, churning out rambunctious, lo-fi ditties. They've cleaned up their act a bit, but it's happened progressively enough that Now That We Can See seems like a fairly logical next step.
The album is good, but part of me still misses that youthful exuberance, that ramshackle quality that set the band apart. By contrast, there's not a whole lot that's original on Now We Can See. (Perhaps the most notable step—forward?—is the slow-building near-ballad "At the Bottom of the Sea," the most down-tempo song I've ever heard by The Thermals.) It sounds like just another decent indie-rock album by another decent indie-rock band, albeit one that knows how to write a tune. But it veers a bit too close to the middle of the road, and that's not why we all signed on in the first place. Perhaps there's a lesson in there somewhere about growing up too soon.
The Thermals perform at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Wednesday, Sept. 9. RCougar opens the show. Doors open at 8 p.m., and tickets are $10 in advance, or $12 on the day of the show. Call 622-8848 for more information.
THE RETURN OF EEF
Three years ago, Nashville-by-way-of-Brooklyn's Clem Snide broke up, and its frontman, Eef Barzelay, embarked on a solo career, releasing two albums and touring by his lonesome. Which was slightly odd, since Clem Snide could have easily been called "The Eef Barzelay Band" from the start, and no one would have noticed. Which is to say, Eef Barzelay is Clem Snide.
In an interview last year with the Tucson Weekly's Annie Holub, Barzelay explained the change: "I think the decision to finally put the name to rest was more psychological and symbolic. I just really wanted to start over, to wipe the slate clean for myself, because it definitely felt like it had ended."
So it seemed a bit odd when, earlier this year, a re-formed Clem Snide played in Tucson on the heels of a "new" album, Hungry Bird (429)—"new," in that it had actually been recorded three years earlier. It also marked a drastic change from the band's early, twangier work—ironically, the band grew less country-influenced after its move to Nashville from Brooklyn. Barzelay is nothing if not a gifted songwriter, and early in Clem Snide's career, he used those gifts to spin humorous yarns, about junkie Jews and innocence lost, that were filled with pathos—humorous, yes; funny, no.
But in recent years, especially on Hungry Bird, much of that twang and humor has been gone, leaving refinement and maturity in its wake. Still, Barzelay's talents as a songwriter are undiminished, even if his M.O. is a bit different these days.
Just five short months after its last Tucson appearance, Clem Snide returns to Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Wednesday, Sept. 9. Showtime is 9 p.m. Opening are the Parson Red Heads, from Los Angeles, and Tucson's Low Ones, who will be releasing a new CD that night. Cover is $8. Call 798-1298 for further details.
One of the last acts signed to Atlantic Records by its co-founder, the legendary Ahmet Ertegun, before his death in 2006, Paolo Nutini is a young, Scottish folk-pop singer who injects more soul into his songs than most in the AAA format. Since his last Tucson appearance, as part of 2007's South by Southwest festival, the "New Shoes" singer has released a fine second album, Sunny Side Up (Atlantic, 2009), whose disposition largely matches its title, and opened for the only show Led Zeppelin has played in almost 30 years.
Paolo Nutini performs at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., on Tuesday, Sept. 8. Anya Marina opens the all-ages show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $21 in advance, or $24 on the day of the show. For more info, call 740-1000.
Tucson isn't exactly known as jazz central, but a pair of notable shows in that genre hit town this week.
In case you hadn't heard, 2009 marks the 50th anniversary of Motown Records, and at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 5, a band made up of keyboardist Jeff Lorber, saxophonists Kim Waters and Dominic Amato, singer-songwriter Leon Ware, bassist Mel Brown, guitarist Thano Sahnas, flutist Alexander Zonjic and drummer Ira King will convene at the Westin La Paloma Resort Ballroom, 3800 E. Sunrise Drive, to pay tribute to the venerable soul label. Tickets are $35 and $75, available at azentertainmentandevents.com. For more details, call 429-9803.
Meanwhile, smooth-jazz saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa takes a break from a reunion tour with his band, the Rippingtons, to front his own band at 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 6, at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, 7000 N. Resort Road. Tickets are $25 for the general public, $20 for Tucson Jazz Society members, and $10 for students and military. They're available in advance at Bookmans, or by calling 903-1265, the same number to call with questions.
Rapper, songwriter and Dr. Dre collaborator Knoc-Turn'al will perform at Sharks, 256 E. Congress St., at 9:30 p.m., next Thursday, Sept. 10, in anticipation of a new album set for October release. $10; 791-9869.
Local combo Sleepy Cheeks—Jonny "Chico" Mueller, Tony Rosano, Ari Posner and Christopher T. Stevens—bring their self-described "alt-soul" sound to the lounge at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., at 9:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 6. Their last performance was recorded by Nathan Sabatino, and is being prepped for upcoming release. Free; 798-1298.
ON THE BANDWAGON
B-Side Players and The Hounds at Plush next Thursday, Sept. 10; Lynyrd Skynyrd at AVA at Casino del Sol on Tuesday, Sept. 8; Tumbledown and John Nolan (Straylight Run) at The Rock on Wednesday, Sept. 9; Mostly Bears, the Boxing Lesson and Four Five Six at Plush on Saturday, Sept. 5; Heathen and others at The Rock on Friday, Sept. 4; Glow Music Launch Party with Triple Double Band, Small Leaks Sink Ships and Race You There at Plush on Friday, Sept. 4; Tucson Rock Alliance launch party with A Search and Rescue and Juicy Newt at The Bum Steer on Friday, Sept. 4.
See y'all at the TAMMIES tonight, Thursday, Sept. 3!