You can read, “Either way, the story continues…from beyond the grave! With catchy choruses!” and suddenly, everything The Thermals has made makes perfect sense. This is how the press release for The Thermals’ latest, greatest, new album, Now We Can See reads. It’s been well noted and detailed that breakthroughs can change bands and when you are responsible for one of 2006’s most accomplished and best albums, you have some expectations.
Rest assured, The Thermals is back and as tight as ever. Those sweeping guitars, Hutch Harris’ boisterous, Malkmus-like delivery and above all, those catchy choruses are in fine form. Success can change you but for some bands, it only means making more of the same great music you were always known for. Although this isn’t so much a concept album, like The Body, The Blood, The Machine was, it is a tightly wound album that succeeds on its own accord.
You can’t help but smile when you hear Harris and Kathy Foster singing in unison, “oh-way-oh-way-oh-whoa,” on the album’s lead single and title track. The music has always been very basic and fundamental but it’s absolutely lovely because of it. They’re definitely singing about how, somehow, after eight terrible years, our country finally made the right choice. And although this is all positive, there is much work to be done. Unapologetic and unforgiving, Harris sings, “We do as we please, now we can see” before leading into a melodically tuneful guitar solo. Everything hits full circle with “How We Fade” and its riff-heavy feel and Harris’ romantic lyrics. The music is full-bodied and sparkles with a gleaming grace and it allows for the dreamy texture to take over.
Although the music still has that somewhat punk-y sound, it’s much more reserved and not nearly in your face. Whereas The Thermals was always about spunk and jive, the group has scaled back in favor of soul and melody. You can easily hear that most of these songs were composed on acoustic guitars, like the soft soundscapes of “At the Bottom of the Sea.” It sounds like something Yo La Tengo would make but it has that charm known and bound to the Portland band. And even though “When I Died” is a cryptic story, the music is pleasing and shimmering.
These aren’t bad choices, not in the least, but they are definitely different routes. One of the best moments is “When I Was Afraid,” with its upbeat and gripping guitars that deliver a harsh harmony. And “I Let it Go” is a delectably rewarding listen. Harris almost sounds like the B-52’s Fred Schneider with his throaty and suffocated delivery and with the powering pop of the music taking over, it all adds up for great music, period.
Make no doubt about it, this is a terrific follow-up to any band’s catalog and it is surely worth your time. It’s not going to grow on you the way others will but it will immediately latch on and never let go. In many ways, it’s a sensible choice because rather than creating something over-drawn and heady, The Thermals relied on its fashionable trademarks to deliver a knockout. Now We Can See is filled with terrific music from top to bottom and when you get down to it, it’s a welcoming joy to have bands of this caliber making these kinds of smart decisions.
“Now We Can See” by The Thermals
“When I Was Afraid” by The Thermals