In a year likely to be defined by intergalactic songbirds with synths and Animal Collective’s maximalistic psychedelia, The Thermals‘ ballsy punk pop sounds curiously fresh. Fourth album Now We Can See finds Hutch Harris and his faintly uncool crew crashing the hip party, smelling of beer and dragging a whopper sack of bargain-bin Big Star and Residents LPs behind them. For this is sweaty music with its choruses set to big, its fists set to clench, and its lyrics set to serious. Hold Steady fans, you know what I’m talking about.
Fans of the band’s last album meanwhile, the searing The Body, The Blood, The Machine, will notice an evolution of sorts in Harris’s musical style. The filthy hiss and fuzz has given way to a bright, crunchy groove that, while still animated by the urgent spirit of his earlier work, puts him alongside the New Pornographer’s A.C. Newman in the power-pop premiership. And, like all the best power-pop, this record is hell-bent on seeking those elusive thrills that light up the wild nights of youth. Nearly every song wants to capture that delirious encore at the best gig of your life and every hollered chorus is delivered with the urgency of a Ginsbergian beat-poet manifesto set to music. Just listen to the rapturous kiss-off to -I let it go’. With every amp turned to 11 and the band working overtime, Harris roars like he’s trying to swallow and spit the words out all at once ‘I looked my fear in the eye/ I looked at the water below/ I knew I could love or die/ I let it go, I let it go’.
Harris is a lyricist of some talent and on Now We Can See his words are cast into relief by the sunny production, which might be a deliberately clever stylistic choice considering that most of the subject matter relates to death. If you played a drinking game where you knocked back a shot every time Harris mentions or alludes to the grim reaper on this album, you’d be lucky not to join the drunk’s corpse who disconcertingly narrates one of the songs from beyond the grave (-Liquid in, Liquid out’). Indeed, on more than one song life is referred to in the past tense, which makes this a raucous power-pop concept album which ponders existential themes from the perspective of someone who popped their clogs. Now if that’s not a unique selling point I don’t know what is.