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Album Review

The Thermals, 'Now We Can See'

April 13, 2009
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Indie Rock
The Thermals Now We Can See
Kill Rock Stars
ESSENTIAL "When I Died"
The Thermals play at the Middle East Downstairs on May 7.

The Thermals' "Now We Can See" begins with guitarist Hutch Harris sloughing off his physical form and returning to the ocean in a fit of willful devolution and rebirth. It combines two songs from 2006's "The Body, the Blood, the Machine" - the sentiment of "Back to the Sea" with the bracing indie-pop enthusiasm of "Returning to the Fold" - and that's one of the new album's main problems. There's a pervasive sameness throughout, so even highlights like the title track suffer from diminishing returns. And while it's hard to think of a band as guitar-forward as the Thermals as being particularly dependent on rhythm, there's little variation or drive in their timekeeping; the moment in the bridge of "When I Was Afraid" when Harris yelps "Fear was by my side/ It kept me well, hell, it kept me alive" feels like the only time the drums really pop. But the concerns of "Now We Can See" - often revolving around a desire to breathe easy and move to a purer state of existence - come through with clarity and wit, suggesting the frustrating possibility that the Thermals' songwriting is starting to outpace their musical capabilities. (Out now) MARC HIRSH