On, 2010′s Personal Life, Portland trio the Thermals jettisoned the political angst that motivated their early material in favor of a more autobiographical subject matter. Frontman Hutch Harris sang about matters of the heart rather than matters of state, as if to suggest that each provoked the same outrage. Taking one step further, their follow-up couches the personal within the political: Desperate Ground, their first album for Saddle Creek and their sixth overall, is among their most rousing and most animated. This is the sound of a band girding for a hard fight: “The sword at my side will allow me to be the last thing my enemies see,” sings Harris on the punk-triumphal standout “The Sword at My Side.”
The Thermals have strategized and streamlined their attack, pummeling through these songs as a three-person rhythm section: Harris playing furious rhythm guitar, Kathy Foster adding dexterous melodies on bass, and drummer Westin Glass pounding away like they’ll face the firing squad if any song exceeds three-and-a-half-minute mark. That strategy can be repetitive across 10 tracks, but it never becomes tedious, thanks to the jittery hooks and blunt impact of “Faces Stay with Me” and “I Go Alone.” The Thermals sound reinvigorated, but rather than smite their enemies, they rally to remind themselves why they keep waging their own personal battle of the band.