Music

A 10-Year-Old Pop-Punk Album Nearly Predicted The Rise Of Donald Trump

Picture this: A group of liberals, religious minorities and other dissidents are fed up with the United States government. Rather than live under the yoke of a country they can no longer stomach, they make a mad dash into Canada to escape a the rule of a fascist leader and the aggressively Christian government they’ve implemented.

Sounds quite a bit like the panicked spirit of 2016, right? The kind of thing that leads to stories like that Canadian-U.S. dating sites for potential Donald Trump refugees and a sudden interest in the Manitoban real-estate market? Well, it’s actually the conceit of The ThermalsThe Body, The Blood, The Machine — an album, which turns 10 on August 22 and was written back when Trump was just a terrible businessman.

The Thermals’ sound, as with most pop-punk acts, has remained relatively static throughout their career. The band made their bones with songs that were driving and catchy, with Hutch Harris’ strained yawp complimenting the trio’s bare-bones drums-guitar-bass setup. 2003’s More Parts Per Million and 2004’s F*ckin’ A are fuzzed-out, DIY affairs with Harris struggling to be heard over the chaotic mix.

And even though The Body is a huge step forward thematically, the Portland band’s sound changes very little from their early releases. Fugazi’s Brendan Casty produced the album and gave the album a much cleaner mix than previous efforts, making the lyrics (and the album’s narrative) much easier to discern. But beyond that, the tracks on the band’s best regarded album are still three chords and a cloud of dust, with each song hovering around the two-to-three-minute mark.

Where The Body distinguishes itself in The Thermals’ catalog is its story. The album very loosely follows a couple as they live under the rule of this future America and their eventual escape over the border into Canada. The “eat your veggies” God of the Old Testament has been turned into a model for government and the punishment for resisting its rule would be right at home in those early books. While they don’t say directly what happens to non-believers, the off-hand comments of government agents hint at how bad things can get.

“Our power doesn’t run on nothing, it runs on blood and blood is easy to attain,” says one during “Power Doesn’t Run On Nothing.” At over 5 minutes, it’s the album’s longest track and hints at the brutality of Hutch Harris’ and Kathy Foster’s imagined country. Harris sells the fear of the common citizen, his voice faltering every time he repeats the order of “Move it!”

The astounding effectiveness of the government’s methods is revealed through the wording that the escapees tend to use. Even though they are struggling desperately to be free from this ultra-conservative future America, they still couch their complaints in language from the Bible. The scramble across the border in “Pillar Of Salt” — perhaps the album’s most enduring and urgent track, with a guitar line that soars even as Harris describes crawling through the mud — is filled with biblical allusions. As they attempt to flee this nightmare Christian America, Harris can’t help but think about Lot’s Wife fleeing a fallen Sodom.

It would be unfair to Donald Trump to say that the Thermals predicted his rise or what life in Trump’s America would be like. There is no Simpsons moment, no Rage Against The Machine cameo to The Body, The Blood, The Machine. But it also wouldn’t be fair to The Thermals to dismiss the album as a fantasy formed out of whole cloth. They were absolutely thinking about the conservative movement and its possible endpoint when they made the album.

The Body, The Blood, The Machine was recorded in the heart of Bush 2‘s reign. And while Dubya was a kinder, gentler conservative who would never openly advocate for hatred the way Trump does, Harris saw the potential for his rhetoric to turn sour. This album takes place in a future where the open arms of so-called “compassionate conservatism” have turned into closed fists raised against those who would oppose it. It’s doubtful that the band could have predicted the uniquely toxic atmosphere of a Trump rally just 10 years after their album’s release, but it’s hard not to see the parallels when his supporters are literally sucker-punching people who disagree with them.

Elements of Trump’s America are all over the album start once you start looking for them. Where Trump supporters get ravenous at the idea of a wall, the future American people gleefully shout “Good luck getting over the fence!” via a sneering Harris. Trump’s bullying rhetoric is parroted by subordinates saying things like “Give us what we’re asking for, either way we’re going to take it” and “We need the ground you’re standing on.”

Even the album’s liner notes — a bulletin redacted to the point of being incomprehensible — reflect Trump’s contentious relationship with the press. Or, more accurately, they just point another neon arrow and how closely Trump is following the fascist’s playbook.

Truthfully, if Donald Trump exists in this album at all, it’s in the many-thousands-year-long gap between the first and second song. The Donald comes into play somewhere between the authoritarian (and kind of dickish) God of “Here’s Your Future” and Hutch explaining the stakes of running away in “I Might Need You To Kill.” The latter’s stilted march instrumentation launches the story proper, breaking into a mess of feedback right as Harris drops his calm delivery and shouts “You tell me what to feel? Hey, I might need you to kill!” The message is clear: Our protagonists have had enough.

Clearly, the album takes place well in the future. Enough time has passed that the religious minorities another dissidents have a canon of heretical saints and other legends. Saint Rosa, who seems to be the patron saint of escape, is worshiped dutifully in the buoyant “St. Rosa & The Swallows”. Even the chorus of the song sounds an incantation in an underground ceremony. “Saint Rosa,” says Hutch. “She flies!” answers the congregation.

But even with all that working against the idea of the album being About Trump, to say it isn’t does the band a disservice. They clearly thought a Trump-like figure could start us down the path toward their prophetic vision of America, or they wouldn’t have felt the need to make the album. In an interview with Pitchfork from 2006, Harris called the album a “paranoid fantasy of how it could get.”

If it’s ever in doubt that The Thermals are attempting to reach an audience before it’s too late, just take a look at some of the album’s more dramatic statements. While it makes sense in the context of the album, the chorus from “An Ear For Baby” is an obvious shot outward toward the listener. “Can you hear me? The sirens on,” he shouts in an attempt to get his fellow citizens of 2006 to perk up their ears.

The Thermals spend the entire album warning of the growing cancer of American xenophobia and hatred by following it to its extreme endpoint. But before they describe their fictional PNW hellscape, they send out a clear warning to the listener in the form of a three-word phrase that starts the album. Pay attention, wake up and do what you can to stand in the way of Trump and his ilk. If you stand idly by, then “Here’s your future.”

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