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, pursued by evangelical thought police, will be vindicated. As it is, The Body, The Blood, The Machine comes off a little like theories of migrant invasions and UN plans to confiscate the firearms of American citizens: which is to say, paranoid. But while the Portland band is lyrically in Philip K. Dick mode on its third full-length, they have loosened up considerably since the Buzzcocks-go-to-college geekpunk of their '03 debut. 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, with the feedbacky stomp of "Back to the Sea," rushing synth-trimmed guitar pop in "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 might be right.
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