The Thermals - Now We Can See (Cover Artwork)

The Thermals

The Thermals: Now We Can SeeNow We Can See (2009)
Kill Rock Stars

Reviewer Rating: 4.5
User Rating:

Contributed by: greg0rbgreg0rb
(others by this writer | submit your own)

2004's Fuckin A was the first Thermals record I heard when my wife (then-girlfriend), who was the manager at our small college's radio station, received it from Sub Pop to add into rotation. I was intrigued by the obnoxious cover art and title and even more intrigued by the lovably-obnoxious feedbac.
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2004's Fuckin A was the first Thermals record I heard when my wife (then-girlfriend), who was the manager at our small college's radio station, received it from Sub Pop to add into rotation. I was intrigued by the obnoxious cover art and title and even more intrigued by the lovably-obnoxious feedback and bash-'em-out anthems contained within. The record was a blast, but I thought that formula might wear thin quick. Luckily, we stuck with ??em and picked up 2006's The Body, The Blood, The Machine, which turned out to be the ??thinking man's Thermals' with deeper lyrics and, more importantly, a bigger scope of tempo, dynamics and feel. It ended up being one of my favorite records of the year. There is just something about the band that makes them so much more likeable than the sum of their simple parts.

With each passing record since the scrappy punk-fueled pop of 2003's More Parts Per Million, the Portland rockers have been stripping away another layer of noise in favor of melody. Now dubbing themselves ??post-power-pop' ("Because adding ??post-' to any genre automatically makes your music sound smarter"), I'm going to have to agree with that label, because hell, the title track has a chorus consisting of guitarist Hutch Harris and bassist Kathy Foster singing in unison "Oh-way-oh-a-whoa" over a bouncy mid-tempo beat; it's poppy yet powerful, and uh, smart! I'm all about it.

With a new drummer Westin Glass (though Foster drums solidly on the album they laid down prior to grabbing him) and in their move to Kill Rock Stars, we see the Thermals constantly evolving, but opening Now We Can See is "When I Died," a tale of attempted devolution and death. Death and illness dominate the album's lyrics, but the band informs us in a SXSW interview for SPIN that it's not a sad record. Foster tells us it's "from the perspective of someone who's died and reflecting back on their life" while Harris just says that "love and death are the most classic themes of songwriting" and so they wanted to step away from the politics and religion of TBTBTM and get back to basics, so to speak. "If life was short / at least it was short" Harris barks from the back of the studio in the song's bridge.

"When I Died" will have you singing about "losing your spine" in no time, but it's catchy not in vocals alone, utilizing a sweet guitar line like those introduced to the band's sound on TBTBTM tunes like "Pillar of Salt." Next up, "We Were Sick" has an undeniable beat, a trebly lo-fi breakdown with handclaps and an addictive vocal line with Foster joining in with Harris, an previously untapped resource that seems so obvious, especially since Foster sang in their prior duo incarnation (conveniently dubbed Hutch & Kathy).

Now We Can See widens their sonic range further with the seemingly-mellow "At the Bottom of the Sea." With its ringing tom hits and a mix of clean and lightly-distorted guitars, its long setup makes it all the more effective when the song busts open in a wash of crash cymbals and feedback. It's also their longest song yet at 5:44, but they make sure to follow it with the zippiest of the album's tracks, "When We Were Alive."

My only complaint would be that the album is a bit front-loaded, but it's more that the second half is as good if only not as immediate. There's plenty to love from "When I Was Afraid," with its menacing minor verses breaking only briefly for a poppier breakdown and outro, to the unassuming bridge hooks of "I Called Out Your Name" that take you by surprise. "How We Fade" brings things down a notch again with Harris singing the ??prettiest' we've yet heard in the verses, joined by Foster for a sing-along chorus with you on backups: "Dreaming of you / Oh-oh! / Oh-oh! / Oh-oh! / And how we fade."

Now We Can See finds the Thermals both evolving and stretching sonic elements while simultaneously tightening up their sound to what they do best, shedding the politics but not dumbing down. A simple concept executed perfectly, the Thermals' sound straddles that line that brings together the punks and indie rockers, to sing together joyfully about sickness and death.


People who liked this also liked:
The Clash - London CallingThe Thermals - Personal LifeAgainst Me! - As The Eternal CowboyThe Loved Ones - Keep Your HeartThe Loved Ones - Build & BurnAgainst Me! - White CrossesAgainst Me! - Searching For A Former ClarityThe Gaslight Anthem - The '59 SoundBouncing Souls - How I Spent My Summer VacationThe Thermals - The Body, The Blood, The Machine

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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
BipedCasserole (April 15, 2009)

@ ilovelamp:
That tour sucked several balls. Mostly because of Cursive. The Thermals are normally great live, but Cursive fans aren't very conducive to a good rock show. They'd rather see Tim Forgothisname sip red wine and talk about hanging out with Conor Oberst. Which is what happened in Detroit.

mechpope13 (April 13, 2009)

what one of their songs was in weeds?

bormesh (April 13, 2009)

Maybe it's just Cleveland, but the Thermals played here about two years ago and it was one of the most memorable shows I saw. It probably had something to do with the contingent of hardcore fans up front that brought their own silly string, but by the end of the set the whole band was not only sweating their asses off, but Hutch had stripped down to his skivvies. Anybody else remember that one?

eazyd2 (April 13, 2009)

i think i heard of these songs on the radio and i tihnk i thought it was ok for indie fag rock. like ooeeooo ooeee oo oo o.

Hey_Asshole (April 11, 2009)

i just got this

this is going to be on my list for Best Releases of 2009.
just as good as Fuckin A.

More Parts Per Million is still just downright awesome, however

youwinalemon (April 11, 2009)

Q. Is there a Thermals record that isn't awesome?

A. No.

Love this band.

mikexdude (April 11, 2009)

I've said it before, but their live show made me feeling like I was watching an episode of Full House where DJ dates a band member.


ChokingVictim (April 11, 2009)

love this record. possibly my favorite by them.

definitely the poppiest.

mattramone (April 11, 2009)

I was disappointed. I can see why Sub Pop didn't put it out despite how much of a success the last one was.

i-type-poorly (April 11, 2009)

Love the album. "Liquid in..." is a lame song, but the rest is great.

ilovelamp (April 11, 2009)

I saw these guys open for Cursive in 2006 and was very unimpressed.

the_other_scott (April 11, 2009)

Fuckin A was awesome...then I went and saw these guys play a show. Absolutely horrible.

I've said it before, but their live show made me feeling like I was watching an episode of Full House where DJ dates a band member.

Nothing exciting, nothing dangerous. I don't even think the band was sweating. What kind of band doesn't sweat during a live show? A boring band. That's what kind of band.

bryne (April 11, 2009)

It's all right. Hopefully it'll grow on me like The Body, The Blood, The Machine did.

greg0rb (April 11, 2009)

Dude, really? "When I Diiiiiiiiiiiiiied!" has been in my head for pretty much a month straight. Fuckin A is amazing, sure, but this is their poppiest most memorable yet.

maverick (April 11, 2009)

I like this record enough, but can't really recall any of the songs in my head even after repeated listens. Whereas Fuckin' A is still permanently lodged in my cerebellum. I think that is their best record, hands down.


mikexdude (April 10, 2009)


mikexdude (April 10, 2009)

I've been told to check them out, now I might just have to. Score's for the review.

Though, needs moar black president.

ollywood (April 10, 2009)

My intuition told me Colin, Archangel, or GregOrb would review this. I also knew that they would give it a near perfect score... I haven't heard this yet, but you did a good job backing your score. I'm definitely gonna pick this up.

Torgo (April 10, 2009)

I was 50/50 if a staff member would review this, good thing I didn't bother. Goods job.

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