Thee Sgt Major III’s latest rips punk a new one

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Artist: Thee Sgt Major III
Album: The Idea Factory
Hometown: Seattle
Label: Spark and Shine Records
Score: 6.3/10

Formed from the ashes of Kurt Bloch’s The Fastbacks, and featuring a proverbial punk rock honor roll of NW rockers, Thee Sgt. Major III have carved themselves quite a notch in the Seattle indie music scene. Self-billed as “vaudevillian punk”, they employ punk rock tactics and a healthy dose of witty macabre into their sound and their live performances.

My only real exposure to the band was from a show at the Funhouse, when I was there to check out the Coconut Coolouts. Not knowing the venue and its penchant for late start times, I showed up nerdily early and actually got there before Thee Sgt Major went on and I was impressed by the group’s energy and wackiness as well as its grimy punk riffs and the voracious tambourine-beating of Leslie Beattie. The band has quite a jaunty approach to punk and it’s on display on its record The Idea Factory, a guitar-driven album laden with smart hooks, plenty of over-reaching guitar solos and biting vocals.

Opener “As I Do” listens like a highly-updated power punk version of singy-songy 50s girl group standards. The rollicking drums, crashing cymbals and spick-and-span upbeat crooning are a great intro this perky record. “Battery Operated” is thick with X-like vocal duos and sees Beattie letting loose and unhinged Exene Cervenka-style. And “What Am I Gonna Do?” rumbles on in the same vein, Beattie exuding confidence and a raucous empowerment. Perhaps my favorite track on the record, “Into the Rhizome,” has the most infectious chorus and effortlessly rolling bridge. The snare drum is frantic and brushy in the opening bars and then Beattie’s infectiously open, airy and smooth murmuring vocals soar in.

“Five and Dime” is proto-punk.  It’s sunny la-la-la pop seen through a Ramones filter, screeching guitar slides and dueling solos amidst the lulling sweetness of the push/pull punk lyricism. There is a playful mood and a breezy aesthetic to Thee Sgt. Major III’s sound which is an aesthetic that punk decidedly doesn’t have. Their signature sound, however, is as punk as punk gets; quick tempoed (13 songs in just about 30 minutes), snarky, stripped-down and youthful.

“The Idea Factory” isn’t an album I should like. My appreciation for punk, power-pop and pop-punk runs thin and I never really got into The Ramones (blasphemy, right?). But the pure spunk and pep of Thee Sgt. Major’s sound with its intentional quirkiness and excessiveness, and the intoxicating sounds of Leslie Beattie have all combined to create one hot sweaty mess of femme-fronted 60s-inspired pop-punk that is undeniably fun. Kurt Bloch, Mike Musburger and Co. rip punk a new one, infiltrating their sound with tidy summer fun, fortunately leaving out the messy suburban-kid woes that proliferate modern punk.

Shrie Spangler

About Shrie Spangler

Shrie is a true Texan taking a break from the sticky weather and even stickier conservatives while livin' it up here in Seattle. She crafts like the wind and fancies herself a web writer and blogger. You can usually find her at the dog park with her pit bull/catahoula Leopard dog mix and her Chesapeake Bay Retirever/husky mix, at super divey blue collar karaoke bars or loitering on her Columbia City street with the uber-friendly neighbors. Oh yeah... and she really digs writing about independent music.