If we're all caught under the penny loafer of Christian fascism sometime soon, the Thermals' vision of a hectic dash for the Canadian border one where we're pursued by evangelical thought police will be vindicated. As it is, The Body, the Blood, the Machine
comes off as somewhat paranoid. But while the Portland bandmates are lyrically in Philip K. Dick mode on their third full-length album, they've loosened up considerably since the Buzzcocks-go-to-college geek-punk of their 2003 debut, More Parts Per Million
. Recorded without a full-time drummer bassist Kathy Foster pulls double-duty on the rhythm section Machine
still lashes together the most powerful foundation ever heard on a Thermals record. Singer-guitarist Hutch Harris eases his manic strumming in spots to a nearly folksy pace, and quavers complex, arcing melodies that might make fellow indie/punk classicist Ted Leo envious. The result is an album of range and elegance including the feedbacky stomp "Back to the Sea"; the rushing, synth-trimmed guitar-pop of "A Pillar of Salt"; and perhaps the band's best love song, "Test Pattern." It's enough to distract from the apocalyptic context: "Now we gotta run," sings Harris, "a giant fist is out to crush us." But you never know: He may be right.