Kill Rock Stars, 2009

Grief is unavoidable on The Thermals‘ Now We Can See. Just as on the previous Thermals album The Body, The Blood, The Machine the band has interwoven dramatic themes in smart lyrics that contrast the ubiquitous power pop beats and vocals.  Whereas before, religiosity and neofascism were the focal points of The Body…, death and reflection are present on Now We Can See (although Kill Rock Stars is quick to point out that this is not a concept album). At various points in the album, the listener can appreciate any one of the five stages of the Kubler-Ross model of terminal illness — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance — but from a perspective removed by time and space.

The album starts out with the defiant “When I Died” with its powerful “I look my fear in the eyes/Looked at the water below/I knew I could love or live/I let it go.”  “We Were Sick” has the narrator commenting on revelry and youthful extroversion, where looking down the road at consequences is just not part of the mindset. The title track, already unnecessarily remixed by Ruby Isle, is terrific in its refrain of “Our history is damaged/At least it was a thrill!” Elsewhere, the listener hears reminiscence on “When We Were Alive” with its “We always smote our foes” and “We’re bad as ash” (has someone made a t-shirt, yet?).

“I Called Out Your Name” and “When I Was Afraid” might have been better flipped in the track order, but are a perfect pair to illuminate final moments. The words of “I Called Out Your Name” may hit close to home for some listeners if they’ve ever been present at the death of a loved one: “My vision turned the threat/I woke up in a sweat/Feeling my spirits drain!/One thing I knew baby it was you/I called out your name.”

One humorous moment was the frank medicalization that could be interpreted from “Liquid In, Liquid Out” which discusses monotony and routine. If one takes the song and examines it diagnostically, it seems the protagonist has diabetes insipidus with his constant thirst and massive quantities of dilute urine. With so much disease elsewhere on the album, it’s hard to ignore this. The final moments of the album, in “You Dissolve”, are sweet: “It’s just another way you deceive/It’s just another way you can leave/It’s just another way you dissolve into steam.”

The Thermals’ formula is fairly straight-forward in its instrumentation, and the hand-claps and grungy guitars are always appreciated. The thematic elements do not seem to bog down the spirit of the songs, which firmly remain in the post-punk/power-pop realm. The new drummer, Westin Glass, does fine, if subdued, work here.  Kathy Foster and Hutch Harris’ contributions are more apparent with Foster’s solid bassline and Harris’ vocals and power chords. Now We Can See is a tight little package in its 34 plus minutes and a nice follow-up to the urgency of its predecessor.