This Week’s Finds: Dec. 31-Jan. 6 (The Thermals, The Winks, Eastern Conference Champions)

“Here’s Your Future” – the Thermals

Let’s hit the ground running here in ’07, shall we? Bracing and uncompromising, “Here’s Your Future” is a two-and-a-half-minute blast of literate, crafty 21st-century punk rock from a band that walks the walk. (The Thermals made news early last year for turning down a $50,000 request from Hummer to use a song of theirs in a commercial.) Fueled by a fast five-chord guitar riff, “Here’s Your Future” is both bleak and poignant; the song offers only the comfort (if you can call it that) of standing up and facing uncomfortable facts in a world incapable of saving itself, a world that looks again and again for salvation in exactly the wrong place (note opening chord from the church organ). Singer/guitarist Hutch Harris pummels his guitars and sings without quite singing while bassist Kathy Foster plays one-woman rhythm section—the band had lost its original drummer late last year so that’s Foster bashing away on the drums as well. (Since recording, they’ve enlisted a new drummer and are back to being a trio.) From Portland, Oregon, the Thermals have been at it since 2002; “Here’s Your Future” is the lead track from The Body, The Blood, The Machine (Sub Pop), the band’s third CD. While not necessarily a concept album, this one features songs that apparently envision the U.S. as being governed by Christian fascists. Not sure how much envisioning that took. The MP3 is available via the Sub Pop site.

“Guitar Swing” – The Winks

At the core of this peculiar but compelling song is the primordially affecting two-chord progression that works magic just about wherever it goes: this is the one where a major tonic chord alternates with the minor mediant chord—that’s the I and the iii, as they say in music theory land. In “Guitar Swing,” the chords underpin a cryptic song with an insistent beat and the unusual if not unique instrumental combination of cello and mandolin. In a wavery tenor that sounds, somehow, both heartbroken and indifferent, singer/mandolinist Todd MacDonald intersperses the largely impenetrable lyrics with Delphic pronouncements–“Sleepers know the facts”; “Tuxedos are only as strong as your heart”—that engage and mystify simultaneously. Meanwhile, bandmate Tyr Jami uses her cello both as rhythmic texture and melodic color, and sings a bit too, with a smiley-er tone than her partner. Don’t miss the “wa-wa” duet section, beginning at 2:23, during which MacDonald and Jami explore the I-iii alternation with earnest whimsy. The Winks are a Montreal-based duo that use a rotating cast of 13 musicians to fill in as needed. “Guitar Swing” is a track off the band’s Birthday Party CD, which was released on Ache Records in November. Birthday Party is the band’s second full-length, widely released CD, but their eighth CD in all (the first five were limited-edition CD-Rs; they’ve also done a split with their side-project, Tights). The MP3 is via the Ache site.

“Hollywood” – Eastern Conference Champions

Any band combining gorgeous melody with ghostly electronics is going to bring Radiohead to mind at this point, and the suburban Philadelphia band Eastern Conference Champions certainly does that here. I will note—as I have in the past—that it is no sin for one band to remind us of another; I always believe a good song is a good song. “Hollywood” is a very good song indeed, its delicate, soaring melody telling an elusive tale of loss and disappointment, accompanied only by percussion and synths and maybe some samples. I like how the song feels expressive and expansive and even organic without any guitar in the mix. Maybe it has something to do with the sleighbells. Lead singer Josh Ostrander has a thin, high voice, not unlike Thom Yorke’s, that sometimes crackles with syllable shifts; he is joined here on backing vocals by Maura Davis of the group Ambulette, a nice touch that accentuates the lullaby-like nature of the song (as do those sleighbells) while creating a little distance from the Radiohead-ish vibe. The song can be found on ECC’s debut EP, The Southampton Collection, was released on Retone Records back in March. The band was signed shortly thereafter to Suretone Records, but what a difference two letters make—Suretone is an offshoot of Interscope Records, part of the Geffen family. ECC’s next full-length will be out on Suretone this spring.

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