The Thermals Now We Can See

[Kill Rock Stars; 2009]

Styles:  punk/indie
Others: Ted Leo + Pharmacists

Last year, people voted for hope and won. This year, The Thermals follow up their acclaimed 2006 LP, The Body, The Blood, The Machine, a scathing, enraged political album, with Now We Can See and a new (cautiously) optimistic outlook.

The result is an exuberant, almost joyful record brimming with sly cynicism and a newfound fondness for whoa-oh refrains and handclaps. On “When I Was Afraid,” lead Thermal Hutch Harris says of his former fear, “Fear was mine/ Fear was by my side/ It kept well, hell it kept me alive.” He’s still addressing the same subject (Bush-era discontent), but here he sounds liberated. Similarly, opener “When I Died” sounds almost triumphant.
Nods toward the preceding album filter in and out, recurring images of water, swimming, and marine life echo Harris’ invoking Noah on The Body, The Blood, The Machine. But as much as it can be read as a sequel, companion piece or counterpoint to its predecessor, Now We Can See is another singular effort from the Portland punks.

The rhythmic base is elastic, pogoing effortlessly (and more fittingly) behind Harris’ particular vocal cadence. He’s always had a way with wordplay, making it sound natural, even slight, while lodging his phrases deep in the listener’s mind, making addictive hooks of simple couplets. Vocally, Harris is declarative, proud and confident. It’s a change from the boiling-blood seething he displayed on The Body, The Blood, The Machine, but like the hopeful zeitgeist that seems to have inspired the record, it’s a welcome change.

For The Thermals, though, this is at least a turning point and at most the band’s finest moment. “At The Bottom Of The Sea” slows down, betraying the tenderness that was only hinted at on previous efforts. “You Dissolve” (again, with the water) caps off the album with energetic confidence, a Jerry Lee Lewis piano part plinking in the background and Harris offering a sardonic message of contentment: “It’s just another way you dissolve/ Into steam/ You dissolve/ Like a dream.”

1. When I Died
2. We Were Sick
3. I Let It Go
4. Now We Can See
5. At The Bottom Of The Sea
6. When We Were Alive
7. I Called Out Your Name
8. When I Was Afraid
9. Liquid In, Liquid Out
10. How We Fade
11. You Dissolve

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