If you live in Seattle and care about live music, you probably know by now: Thunderpussy puts on a great show. Whether strutting across barroom stages or hosting their own annual New Year’s Eve bash, the quartet has garnered attention for several years with their raucous live act—an earnest embrace of ‘70s rock’s most thrilling excesses, from crowd-surfing to onstage nudity, boldly reclaiming them for their gender and era.
It’s one thing to make an impression in person and another to do so on record. Thanks at least in part to their stage reputation, Thunderpussy signed to Stardog/Republic Records in late 2017 and decamped to Ashland, Ore. to record with producer Sylvia Massey. Would their larger-than-life, AC/DC by way of sex-positive Seattle sound find new depth in the studio? Or would it fall flat without the visual complement?
Thunderpussy starts with a motorcycle engine revving behind Ruby Dunphy’s thundering drums, before guitarist Whitney Petty bursts in with an enormous power riff that’s no less satisfying for being a bit obvious. “Speed Queen” is a definite demonstration of power. They do themselves a service by leading with what’s arguably the most predictable of the album’s rockers. It’s followed by “Badlands” and “Fever,” both of which find more sonic shading within the band’s riff-reliant sound. The rhythm section, composed of Dunphy and bassist Leah Julius, keeps the tension tight and simmering whenever it’s not boiling over for Petty’s blistering solos or singer Molly Sides’s wailing choruses.
Side’s breathy, vibrato-rich vocals retain their sultry confidence on record. Massy makes the whole band sound as if they’re performing within a cavernous barroom, an atmosphere that jibes with but never limits Thunderpussy’s versatility. “Torpedo Love,” the album’s well-placed first ballad, sounds like a gorgeous lost cut from Led Zeppelin III, with restrained orchestration, tempo changes and windy sound effects adding new depth to the proceedings. “Velvet Noose” and “Gentle Frame” are two of the album’s most successful rockers, the latter astounding with its chugging verses that shift to a soulful “Turn and walk away!” chorus. Sides’ vocals on “All In” provide the album’s emotional climax. These songs work, especially in this particular sequence.
The back half of the album boasts another two distinct ballads in “Cloud” and “Young and Pure,” plus a power-driven mission statement in “Thunderpussy” and the dancefloor shakeup “UteroTango,” which dissolves into a Santana-style breakdown of spacey bleeps and bloops courtesy of cleverly deployed percussions. Most every song on Thunderpussy contains unexpected sonic elements like these, small but crucial choices that keep the listener engaged where a lesser band might rest on their opening riff.
Rather than simply translate their live act to record, Thunderpussy used the tools of the studio and their new major-label status to produce a debut album more varied and rewarding than there was any cause to expect. Sides and Petty especially get the chance to show off their versatility, using a limited arsenal to establish unique moods throughout and build a whole that feels more than the sum of its already impressive parts. No matter the setting or style, what remains is the confidence of Thunderpussy.