The Thermals insist that Now We Can See, their fourth, isn’t a concept album, but strange threads run through it—lyrics about evolution and death, specifically. The Portland trio knows about the former concept, for sure; Now We Can See uses the same Spartan setup as their no-fi debut, More Parts Per Million, but it’s incredibly clean and (gasp) professional-sounding by comparison. That’s by no means a bad thing, especially when it’s coupled with the band’s best songs yet: Every track here is imbued with the sort of plucky, desperate energy that’s impossible to fake. Hutch Harris’ ultra-simple riffs find perfect company with his often-dark lyrics, turning what might seem like depressing lyrics (“Busted and wrecked, justly infected / my body beyond repair”) into three-chord affirmations. The title track even offers a little handclap-assisted sing-along, proving that there’s energy and passion to spare. Harris’ voice, as always, stays in one limited place throughout, but it makes perfect sense in this delightfully no-nonsense world. In fact, it’s only when he gets a little too melodic, on “Liquid In, Liquid Out,” that Now We Can See steers slightly wrong. But that’s a very slight complaint for an album that goes so far in proving that simplicity not only has its place, it’s also often the path to unmitigated greatness.
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