Release Date: Mar 25, 2016
Record label: Saddle Creek Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
If humanity is a species speeding towards its own self-induced extinction —and we are, FYI — then the apocalypse should at least have a good soundtrack. That’s where The Thermals come in, a band that make music for the end of the world, and they even have the courtesy to address some of the more trivial homo sapien concerns, such as those pesky break-ups, while they’re at it. We Disappear opens to the sound of static fuzz and the jagged, infectious ‘Into the Code’, a song of aching post-millennial anxiety.
Back in 2003, Portland, Oregon’s The Thermals announced their arrival with their Sub Pop debut More Parts Per Million; a scuzzy, but highly infectious lo-fi classic mastered from a cassette recorded in frontman Hutch Harris’ kitchen. That same influential Seattle imprint also released their sonically-enriched follow-up Fuckin’ A and 2006’s The Body, The Blood, The Machine before the band switched to a second, much-respected Pacific North-West coast label – Kill Rock Stars – for three more highly-regarded LPs including 2010’s critically-acclaimed Personal Life. Sponsored by Conor Oberst’s Nebraska-based Saddle Creek, The Thermals’ seventh LP, We Disappear, is frequently preoccupied by mortality and the transience of existence, most specifically on the grinding, intense The Great Dying (“We came, we scrawled our names/We were here, we disappear”) and the grungey Into The Code which examines how social media can offer a form of technological immortality.
If history’s any guide, taking Hutch Harris’ tweets at their word is perhaps not always a great idea - he usually seems in irreverent mood - but when he began to drop subtle hints that The Thermals’ tour in support of their last album, 2013’s ‘Desperate Ground’, might be their last, it was hard not to feel mildly disconcerted. After all, there’s nobody who does melodic punk quite like Harris and Kathy Foster; his deadpan vocals over those fuzzy guitars is the sound of a band who’ve evidently neatly carved out their own niche. The world would be a little quieter without The Thermals, but any such fears have hopefully been proved unfounded by the arrival of ‘We Disappear’, which has them reconvening with Chris Walla - once of Death Cab for Cutie - who handles production duties.
The Thermals' 2013 album, Desperate Ground, was a return to their no-holds-barred punk rock roots, a desperate and broken blast of overdriven noise and shouted melancholy. Arriving in 2016, We Disappear follows it up with more of the same. The fire that they stoked to white-hot temps there is still burning hot and pure here, with Hutch Harris delivering impassioned howls and blown-out guitar riffing, drummer Westin Glass hammering his drums like he's trying to kill them, and bassist Kathy Foster anchoring it all with thick slabs of bass foundation (and the occasional backing vocal).
Following the action-packed amorality of 2013’s Desperate Ground, The Thermals’ latest effort finds Hutch Harris aiming the camera squarely at the mirror. We Disappear is ultimately a break-up album – yes, the sap factor is high, but it’s framed by the recurring theme of technology, and the way it allows us to commit to semblances of real-life experience while cutting ourselves off from the real thing – and, indeed, from each other. Weighty subject matter, then, but Harris’ John Darnielle-esque delivery rams the message home amidst their strongest set of tunes since 2006’s The Body, The Blood, The Machine, with Kathy Foster’s on-point harmonies (Thinking Of You) and propulsive bass (Always Never Be) adding purpose to their power-punk arsenal.
We Disappear feels like the middle ground to 2004's Fuckin A and 2013's Desperate Ground. If you're a fan of The Thermals, there's a lot to read into that because you'll realize it's a solid blend of fuzzed-out, distorted rock and catchy, head-bobbing jams. If you weren't before, then consider this a great starting point. There's a vibrancy and bounce to this record, that while not the most outstanding in their catalog, still manages to creep up with a lot of legs that does more than enough to be considered right up there.The Thermals infuse power and pop-punk in a way that fans of bands like Superchunk, Built To Spill and The Japandroids can connect with.
The Thermals are a serious band that's hard to take too seriously. Over the last decade half-decade-plus, singer Hutch Harris has waxed profoundly on religion, war, politics, mortality, the improbability of lasting love, and other fears that keep us up at night, but always in the same boyish pop-punk yelp that renders his lyrics about 40% cuter than he probably intends them to be. In another world he might have been blessed with the gritty, commanding pipes of a Joe Strummer or a Laura Jane Grace, singers who by their very nature exude authority.
Hutch Harris and crew could probably turn out new Thermals records every few years without much difficulty. It's not a backhanded compliment; Thermals records are, by and large, pretty effortlessly consistent. You know you'll get a cycle of smart, tightly-wound twee-punk jams. As with the run of albums following the mid-2000s classic The Body, The Blood, The Machine, there are few surprises on We Disappear, with the exception of possibly the band's slowest number to date, the somber, introspective closer "Years in a Day." .
After nearly 15 years and six previous albums, the Thermals know what they’re doing. They blend thoughtful lyrics (sometimes political and sometimes religious-ish) with an energetic, poppy punk sound. The problem with album number seven, We Disappear, is that the Thermals know what they’re doing. They’re still doing it well enough, but a by-the-numbers feel has started to creep in, preventing this one from matching the highs of their albums from a decade ago.
The Thermals have never shied away from dark topics. On their seventh studio album, We Disappear, the punk rock trio pick up where 2013’s Desperate Ground left off, only this time they’re confronting death, immortality, and heartbreak with lyrics too blunt to do damage. Singer-guitarist Hutch Harris, bassist Kathy Foster, and drummer Westin Glass sound exhausted by their own words.
On seventh album We Disappear, the Thermals announce their return with the screeching feedback of opener "Into The Code. " In contrast to the shrill, affronting opener, though, the record is, unfortunately and overwhelmingly, a bland release from a band that feels like they're stuck going through the motions. Whilst the Thermals produce some catchy moments here (the repeated shout of "Hey you!" in the song of the same name will stick in your head for hours), for the most part, We Disappear passes the listener by, failing to demand attention.
The Thermals — We Disappear (Saddle Creek)The Thermals have been making brash, bouncy pop punk for 14 years now, topping an airplane roar of fuzz and distortion with warbly, vulnerable, tuneful vocals. At its best, say the 2004 Fuckin A highlight “How We Know,” this band was unstoppably catchy, rough enough not to cloy, but irresistible, buoyant as soap bubbles. A darker, more thoughtful side began to emerge with 2006’s The Body the Blood the Machine, when the band’s output slowed half a step or so in tempo and Hutch Harris began writing about religion, morality and existential drama.
We Disappear might be a break up album, but with their seventh release The Thermals are injecting colour into into their template. It's nearing fifteen years since The Thermals first started making music together. Taking their tried and tested formula, the band use the vehicle of a disintegrating relationship to question how connected we really are, and in fact, how real anything we show to feel is, in this technology adept age.
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.