Word on the street is that Thunderpussy, a classic rock band whose main selling point seems to be that it’s all female, puts on a mean live performance. It only takes, after all, one quick Google search of the band to see articles lavishing the Seattle-based group with praise for its magnetic performances and for the charisma it brings to the stage.
To be fair, the band’s live performances really are worth the hype — singer Molly Sides and the band’s dancers pour themselves across the stage, moving with a poised, fully expressive energy. The other band members — guitarist Whitney Petty, bassist Leah Julius and drummer Ruby Dunphy — stand steady, providing instrumentals for Sides’ voice to climb onto.
The band’s impressive ability to reconstruct the gritty, guitar-heavy rock bravado of the 1990s onstage and lend it a feminine twist is at first more striking than its music. Yet, the band makes clear on Thunderpussy, its self-titled debut album, that its music is nothing to sneeze at either. On Thunderpussy, the band presents an easy fluency in all the standard motifs of rock music; each of the twelve songs radiates a focused coolness.
The album opens with “Speed Queen,” for all intents and purposes one of the more boring tracks on the album but one that gives a quick and dirty overview of the band’s vision of itself. Dunphy’s drums open the track. One by one, the other instrumentalists join her, accompanied by the revving of a motorcycle in the distance.
“I met her at a bar in Sedona, Arizona,” Sides begins to sing, her voice sweet, viscous and leading. Tonally and lyrically she recalls the seductive rebellion of an Americana that has never existed. Vocally, Sides only shows her full hand, so to speak, when the chorus hits. Her voice picks up a grit that matches the motorcycle’s revving engine and she introduces the vibrato that reemerges later in some of the album’s most interesting moments.
The album’s standout track is “Gentle Frame.” The song’s opening is slow and steady. Neither the vocals nor the instrumentals have much character. It is at the chorus once again that the band picks up the pace. Petty’s guitar soars as Sides’ vocals rise and fall to impossible heights. The song asks to be played at full volume, to be allowed to present itself as a space that one can dive into headfirst. It is the simple allure of the magnitude and the texture of the sounds that makes the song work.
And yet, in spite of the band’s technical proficiency, there is always the sense that something big is missing from the album. Yes, the band plays its heart out on the record but it hardly reinvents rock — it simply revitalizes the dormant intensity of the genre. It soon enough begins to seem like Sides, with her dynamic vocals, is doing the heavy lifting on the album.
None of the instrumentals are quite subversive or interesting enough to be captivating unless her voice is creeping through the spaces above and below them.
The instrumentals seem to be crafted more from a necessity to prove the band’s ability to go through the traditional motions of its genre than from any sort of desire to push boundaries or imagine an expansion to rock music, which, to be frank, seems quite antithetical to the foundational elements of rock music. Should Thunderpussy choose to accept, there is ample room for growth available to the band — a challenge that the band seems more than competent enough to take on.
Sannidhi Shukla covers music. Contact her at [email protected].