Beaten Awake: Thunder$troke

Luke McGrath

Thunder$troke sounds like five guys in a basement, the air between them, and nothing else. This is, quite clearly, a good thing.

Beaten Awake


Label: Fat Possum
US Release Date: 2009-10-13
UK Release Date: 2009-10-12

Beaten Awake’s Thunder$troke has a distinctly '90s sound. Not in a Nirvana (or Aqua) way -- more that period post-grunge where it was okay to sing again, to play it loose and ramshackle, and not get caught down in false gravitas. As in slacker pop, best exemplified by Pavement or Archers of Loaf or Weezer. It was music that was less about emoting your diary entries and more a chance to get together and just have fun with your friends. Beaten Awake probably understand that better than most. These guys are long-time buddies, having served in several bands in their home state, Ohio.

With pop culture accelerating as fast as it is, I wonder if we may be witnessing the nascent start of a '90s revival. Much like bands like Pavement or Sebadoh or the Fauves were a purging of the dourness that grunge offered, there seems to be a raft of bands recently leading the same kind of charge against the eyeliners and angst of emo.

Which is not to say that Beaten Awake can’t sound heartfelt or sincere -- the catch in Jon Finley’s throat on “Gyro Quake” has more depth in its figurative fingernail than is found in MCR’s back catalogue. But the band often chooses to let the music do the emoting for them, their lyrics (and nonsensical titles) often just serving as words to hang the melody on. Even when the lyrics seem direct, their meaning often remains elusive, as if we are only getting part of the story. The band’s two distinctive vocalists are a particular drawcard. Joel McAdam’s David Berman-esque drawl and gift for half-awake melodies are nicely offset by Finley’s lighter touch (beautifully showcased on “Coming Home”). A sense of these two songwriters working discretely pervades the album. It’s not until you hear them sing together on album highlight “Mr. Thompson” that you realise what an opportunity they’ve squandered to include more of their interlocking voices.

Much like their '90s contemporaries, they take strains of '60s and '70s pop and rock, then filter them through a Rube Goldberg-like contraption, spitting out scruffy odd-shaped versions of those classic rock tropes ("the ballad", "the driving song"). The way the guitars crunch is sublime, and the drummer’s frequently laconic, "just about to fall off his stool" vibe makes me wish for an opportunity to see them on stage. Apart from the video game-esque effects introducing final track “I Shot The Mayor, Not The Deputy”, Thunder$troke sounds like five guys in a basement, the air between them, and nothing else (a good thing). The band clearly revels in the lost art of actually just playing guitar, using pedals and volume to achieve the required tones and textures rather than midi and Pro-Tools.

“Up from the bottom is where I shine” goes an early line on penultimate track “Halo V”, and it’s a genuine sing-along fist-pumping moment, an underdog statement of intent, and a glorious valediction. It’s the sound of these Ohioan friends, themselves having seen bands pick up and fall apart, once more going into the breach, in search of rock ’n’ roll immortality, and representing the hopes of every kid with a guitar and a dream. These guys may always be those scrappy underdogs, but we wouldn’t want it any other way.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.