For years, it’s been common for people to equate The Thermals with consistency, and it’s easy to see why. Across their previous six albums, even when the band was getting conceptual, the end result was always the same: a new batch of similar-sounding songs released in a new package. This is by no means a bad thing, but it’s not an exciting one either.
At a brisk 30 minutes, We Disappear follows the pattern that fans of the Portland trio have come to expect over their nearly 15 years together. Songs split the difference between pop-punk and garage rock, with every track based around simple riffs and even simpler executions. But that’s exactly what makes The Thermals the band they are. To expect anything other than that would be to project unreasonable expectations onto a band that’s always been about gut-level rock songs.
We Disappear feels like a bit of a return to the band’s mid-’00s golden era. Album opener “Into The Code” relies on the tricks that fans have come to love, building on some light feedback, a three-chord riff, and a solid, steady backbeat. When the chorus hits, vocalist Hutch Harris sounds as energetic and inspired as ever. It’s a template that’s repeated on tracks such as “Hey You,” “My Heart Went Cold,” and “Thinking Of You,” showing that The Thermals have mastered the art of subtlety. Taken at face value, the songs are basically the same, but it’s the small ways the band makes each one feel distinct that makes We Disappear so effective.
This knack for low-key nuance is evident in the band’s diversions into spacier arrangements (“The Great Dying”; “Years In A Day”), which show Harris’ riffs in a new context. The production, courtesy of former Death Cab For Cutie member Chris Walla, makes these songs, basked in an ambient wash, still feel wholly accessible. It’s here, when the band shows how malleable their sound can be, that We Disappear proves what The Thermals are truly best at: making the old feel new again.