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Portland indie-punkers The Thermals warm hearts with 'Personal Life,' an album that swells and sputters like love



The Thermals with Coathangers
9 p.m. Monday
113 N. Crawford, Norman
$10 advance, $12 door
$12 advance, $14 door under 21

Complexity's overrated. That's one of the guiding principles for The Thermals.

The Portland, Ore., trio's five full-length albums are characterized by propulsive, straightforward lo-fi rock with a strong punk undercurrent and perceptive lyrics. Too loud to be called minimal, their music is grimy, but never sloppy.

"A lot of my favorite songs are super-simple, with three chords and simple drum beat," said bassist Kathy Foster. "It's like those songs are the most fun to dance and sing along to."

The Thermals were formed in 2002 by Foster and Hutch Harris. The two met in San Francisco in their teens, and eventually started the band Haelah, which started as a kind of stoner-rock band before morphing into the folk-pop duo Hutch & Kathy. After recording an acoustic pop album under the new name, Harris retreated into the studio to indulge a different side of his personality.

"He kind of wanted to make some songs really fast. A lot of the songs were written and recorded within a day or two, just spouting it out, and not thinking about it," Foster said.

Although the chunky throb is the first thing to catch your attention, Harris' canny writing is a galvanizing force. The trio's first two albums bristle with brash anthems, and the band followed with 2006's breakout, "The Body, The Blood, The Machine." It landed on many critics' year-end lists, and graduated The Thermals from cult fave to underground sensation.

For its latest, "Personal Life," The Thermals took on the subject of love.

"It's not so much a story, but the whole thing is within the theme and has a kind of arc to it as this kind of failing relationship," Foster said.

While the last two discs were written and recorded as a duo, with Foster playing both bass and drums, the new album benefits from the arrival of drummer Westin Glass, who encouraged more of a live writing process. The rhythm section drives the group's new songs. It's a subtle, but undeniable difference.

"You don't feel like anything's missing, but we don't feel like we all have to be playing the same thing for it to sound full," Foster said.

While The Thermals remain their main project, both Foster and Harris have been working on solo stuff for the past year. She played some solo shows over the summer on electric guitar backed by four-track recordings of her on other instruments.

Harris hasn't taken the stage solo, but did enter the studio to record four songs for a new project called Forbidden Friends, which Foster said will feature her and Glass performing backing tracks.

"We just like to try different things musically that excite us and hope that people like it, and that we continue to grow and not be tied to one sound coming from us," she said. "Chris Parker

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