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The Thermals - Now We Can See

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Artist: The Thermals

Album: Now We Can See

Label: Kill Rock Stars

Review date: Apr. 1, 2009


The Thermals - "I Let It Go" (Now We Can See)


Pop-punk as predictably great as the Thermalsí hardly needs a critic to make a claim for it or provide an entry point. This is a dubious little pre-emptive parry, and Iím aware of the other situations where people might trot out this little tautology: itís good because itís good, thatís all good, etc. But when youíre on the business end of a song like ďA Pillar of Salt,Ē from The Body, the Blood, the Machine, being whiplashed around by the enthusiasm Hutch Harris uses to throw his voice into his snaky melodies, the bandís eager punk can feel like a metaphysical ideal. Beginning with their first LP, More Parts Per Million, the Porland band has been chipping away at this ideal with frequently impressive results, but it was with 2006ís The BodyÖ that they figured out how to make their caffeine-and-weed bursts of energy and lyrical free-association stick over the length of an album. Now We Can See maintains the cohesion its predecessor arrived at through its album-length narrative, a fantasy of Bush-era exodus, but without an arc.

Thereís a theme of sorts, an As I Lay Dying-style narration about death from the perspective of the dead and the living. Itís one you can safely ignore, though: Harrisí lyrical strength has always been in writing lines that can pass as accidental slogans, keeping the lyrics satisfyingly abstract while providing just enough emotional signage. The Thermals care, but the ďcaring-forĒ part of the equation has, even at their most topical, always been purposefully vague; itís what allows them to be an earnest band without succumbing to the effort of conveying it. More important than the albumís conceit and whatever toehold it might offer, though, is that it sports less flab than their critical breakthrough. It might have something to do with the addition of a new drummer, Westin Glass, following Jordan Hudsonís departure prior to that albumís recording sessions. Technically, things are fully nailed-down here. Song tempos are more varied, too, and the Thermals are able to pull off slower songs like the ďAt the Bottom of the SeaĒ with the panache previously reserved for faster ones. Without the soggier moments that arrived in The BodyÖĎs second half, Now We Can See is evenly satisfying.

That sounds tepid. This is one of the strange things about the Thermals: when youíre in the music, little else compares to it. Thereís an absorption and projection involved in the music that I havenít encountered in this form since buying Red Medicine in high school. And yet thereís a slight tinge of self-policing, as if I should consider the band a guilty pleasure. Thereís a crisis of representation in both visual art and music thatís only been made more keen by the current recession, and the Thermals are unabashedly representational punks. Thereís a lot of comfort and consolation in their persistence, the fact that they understand why theyíre good at what they do and why that matters: with this albumís ďI Let It Go,Ē they capture the moment when liberalism transmutes into a form of self-help. Thereís no shortage of PDXers attempting pocket Buddhism of the quasi-ironic sort, and to hear it worked into git-loose nerve-punk is just the kind of airing-out indie rock needs to steer it back to the right kind of involution.

By Brandon Bussolini

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