Hutch Harris (the Thermals) Talks Albert Hammond Jr.’s Momentary Masters

Our writer would like this album even if he didn't want to be more like Albert Hammond, Jr.

I once did an interview with a German music magazine in which they had bands critique and rate new releases, like ten records or so. Albert Hammond Jr. had been interviewed for the same column the previous issue, and the interviewer showed us his ratings. Hammond gave every single band he listened to a 10/10, in the spirit of not judging and not speaking negatively about another artist’s work. It was honestly touching!  I immediately wanted to be more like Albert Hammond Jr.: positive, encouraging and non-judgmental.

But uh, not right away. That day I tore hard into every band they threw at me. What can I say, it was mostly electronic Euro-trash. This was years ago. I’d like to think I’ve changed since then, that I’ve evolved the way in which I hoped I would. Did I follow Hammond’s example liked I wanted to? I believe I have.

I’m quite familiar with Albert Hammond Jr.’s work. The early Strokes records are some of my favorite records of the past decade, and Hammond’s first solo record, Yours to Keep (2006), in my opinion ranks just below the Strokes’ second album, Room on Fire (2003), and well above their third, First Impressions of Earth (2006) — although, to be fair, First Impressions… does get better each time I return to it. I’ve found most of Hammond’s solo work to be similar enough to the Strokes to satisfy their fans, original enough to be something entirely different, and always catchy and fun.

Immediately, Momentary Masters, his third album, doesn’t disappoint. The first track, “Born Slippy” (not a cover of Underworld’s 1995 hit), sounds like, well, the Strokes. I mean that as a compliment, of course. No lead-in, no intro, no pretentious bullshit. It’s just slick enough without sounding too glossy, with a taut, bouncy beat and that sweet, shimmering sound I’ve grown to know and love since the turn of the century. For all the flack the Strokes took for being too cool, their records never really reflected it. Their songs were written simply and recorded honestly, with no frills. “Born Slippy” could be straight off First Impressions of Earth. Is it Is This It (2001)? No, but it’s pretty close to it.

OK, I’m going to try to stop referring to the Strokes. It must be more than annoying to have every record you make judged against your previous projects. I like this record a lot. It quickly goes a bit experimental, with Hammond even rapping over the disco-y second track, “Power Hungry.” What I like about Hammond solo is that unlike his work in the Strokes (whoops), on his own records he’s not afraid to take big chances, and also always seems to be enjoying himself.

Track five, “Losing Touch,” is when I find myself truly relating to Hammond. The song is a perfect mix of all the great pop groups I grew up with (the Cars, the Outfield), and the cool bands I discovered in high school (Superchunk, Guided by Voices). The Strokes always claimed to be big GbV fans, but I never heard it in any of their songs.  But here, Hammond wears his influences, and his heart, on his sleeve. Like I said, unafraid.

OK, shit gets serious on track six, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” Look, we all love “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” How could you not? There are more Bob Dylan songs I love than I can count, and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” might be my favorite one of all. It’s a song I have truly felt something for, that I’ve felt something with. It’s a song I’ve played repeatedly as I drove around smoking and crying in the Portland rain. To cover this song is bold. You have to know the cover will never touch the original. Sometimes with covers you can only hope to not fuck it up. Hammond didn’t fuck it up.

Momentary Masters closes with “Drunched in Crumbs” and “Side Boob,” two of the record’s highest-energy songs. I like records that close with songs that are as fast and fun as the songs that opened it. I honestly don’t care for either of those titles, but I’m enjoying these songs too much to let that bother me.

I’m very glad to say I like this record very much. I don’t want to trash anyone’s art, but I don’t want to pretend to like it either. This record is tight, shiny and unbelievably catchy. I would give it a 9, but since I want to be more like Albert Hammond, Jr. I’m gonna give it a 10.

Hutch Harris was born in New York City, raised in Silicon Valley and has resided in Portland, Oregon for the past twenty years.  Harris founded and was the lead singer/songwriter of the Thermals. He is currently working on his first solo LP. Follow Harris on Twitter here.

(Photo Credit: Westin Glass)