The Thermals received a lot of attention a few years back for The Body, The Blood, The Machine, a loose concept album about the U.S. being governed by fascist Christians. Hm. I liked the free downloads that former label Sub Pop released (“Pillar of Salt” and “Here’s Your Future”), and loved the live show I saw (opening for Ted Leo at the late great McCarren Pool in Brooklyn, Summer 2007), but for whatever reason I never checked out the rest of the album. And that’s despite my affinity for both politics and fascist Christians. I just missed out.
When news came of Now We Can See, the forthcoming follow up to be released by Kill Rock Stars, I made a point to listen when the opportunity presented itself (and it’s out there, so yeah). Holy crow, this album flat out rocks. It’s the real deal, no doubt, and though it shames all of those pathetic mall-ternative bands pandering to the Hot Topic punks, I get the sense that the simple power chords and Hutch Harris’s vocals (yes, reminiscent of the dude in Green Day) could blow up with the younger generation if given the chance. That might be putting too much faith in the musical taste of today’s youth, but it really wouldn’t surprise me. The Thermals manage to pack Now We Can See with enough catchy post-punk-pop hooks to last the average attention-span-deprived middle schooler at least through sophomore year. Fortunately they should appeal to us children of the 70's and 80's too.
Overall Now We Can See is a more personal record than the socially conscious The Body, The Blood, The Machine, but by no means has the band’s energy been diminished. Harris and crew keep things pretty manic from start to finish, save the beautiful ballad “At The Bottom Of The Sea”. Themes of death, love and drowning abound, and song titles like “How We Fade”, “We Were Sick”, “When We Were Alive”, and “Now We Can See” give the album a sense of communal angst (notice all those “we’s”). The most striking thing to me about this album after a handful of listens is the balance between punk-as-all-hell energy and careful articulation - this is one singer who never has to worry about his words getting lost in the noise. Harris’s vocals are front and center, and no matter how loud the guitars roar he is never overshadowed or unintelligible. And yes, his lyrics are worth paying attention to.
The title track has been made available as a free download, so check that out below, but really this record has about 8 or 9 potential singles on it of the 11 tracks. Other standouts include the anthemic album opener “When I Died”, the just-under-2-minute-blast that is “When We Were Alive”, and the crunch of “We Were Sick” and “I Let It Go”. If you like loud guitars, memorable choruses, and singers who mean it, check out Now We Can See - it’s definitely a worthwhile listen. Comes out April 7th.