By Allyson Bills
“If it’s not broken don’t fix it;” this is the slogan that rings true for The Thermals’ seventh album, We Disappear. Even the album’s artwork eerily reminds me of their 2003 debut effort, More Parts Per Million. For We Disappear, The Thermals - comprised of Hutch Harris on vocals and guitar, Kathy Foster on bass and vocals, and Westin Glass on drums - tabbed producer and former Death Cab For Cute guitarist Chris Walla to helm this effort in both Portland’s Kung Fu Bakery and Seattle’s The Hall of Justice recording studios for Saddle Creek Records.
If the artwork for We Disappear doesn’t make me feel like I’m in “Groundhog Day,” the music on this album will make you feel more so. Harris is known for his dark and personal lyrics, and We Disappear is no exception. The album begins with “Into the Code.” The sound of the entire track doesn’t deviate from any of The Thermals’ past material; it’s the same power-pop three chords that you would hear on any of their albums. In fact, the sound of “Into the Code” reminds me of their 2009 uninspired effort Now We Can See with the slowish guitars. Lyrically, however, “Into the Code” is gold. Harris’ introspective lines about how our lies are secrets forever: “Out of the past // We are finally here // Our secrets // They will last // They will not disappear // Every story we sold // Every lie we told,” will tug at the heartstring of your every being.
“My Heart Went Cold” is an upbeat-sounding tune with a thumping guitar line for the introduction, which is one of the more distinctive tracks off We Disappear. It’s different from the other songs off the album in that that verse and the chorus flow naturally together, and doesn’t sound forced. Despite the “fun” nature of “My Heart Went Cold,” the lyrics are dark and even relatable in terms of finding a way to fix a damaging situation: “The damage is a drain // It tears me apart // I don’t know I can repair it // I don’t know where to start.” Harris always has a knack in conglomerating positive-sounding beats with utterly depressing lyrics that makes the listener forget what they are listening to in the first place.
I also felt the “Groundhog Day” feels while listening to “Hey You,” in that those charging riffs remind me of the entire The Thermals’ 2004 effort, Fuckin A. After seven albums, you would think that The Thermals would become somewhat musically-inspired to integrate new aspects into their overall sound, but apparently not with “Hey You.” It has that sludgy quality when The Thermals attempt to channel their inner Heavy Metal Gods and Goddess.
“If We Don’t Die Today” is The Thermals’ gander with changing it up mid-tempo style. Unfortunately, this song lacks the hooks and prowess to retain my attention. The beats are stagnant and it lacks substance throughout; The Thermals fail to capitalize on any sort of opportunity to hone and let the song flourish to its possible full potential. Even the lyrics are corny: “If we don’t die today // Lie to me anyway.” Overall, this track gave me the impression that it was just a filler track in order to have a ten track album.
With that being said, “The Great Dying” is the antithesis of “If We Don’t Die Today” with The Thermals’ attempt at their version of a ballad actually working in their favor. Throughout “The Great Dying,” there are hooks galore layered with heavy distortion pedals toward the end, with the track literally disappearing. It almost felt like I was listening to a shoegaze album. Even the dark nature of the lyrics complements the sound of this track: “The time stretches before us // The world before us stretches black.” Listening to these lyrics made me feel like I was going deep into a black hole.
The other gem off We Disappear is “In Every Way.” Despite this track clocking in at 2:42, it packs the punch that I love in a The Thermals song and more. The guitar is swinging and the hooks are evident, but not overpowering. I felt like I was listening to some of the mid-2000’s material of lo-fi legends Guided By Voices during “In Every Way” due in part to a mature lo-fi sound. Even the lyrics are powerful, as they discuss destroying something that is perceived as being perfect: “In every way I had it all // The perfect mate, the perfect state...I lost it all.”
If there is ever to be an anthem about co-dependence, then you can look no further than by listening to “The Walls.” This song is basically about how there are huge divides in a relationship (“The walls I build through you are the walls that I share // They will tear us in two”), but you also simultaneously depend on that person for your well-being (“The walls that I depend on to keep you away”). I mean, what is an album without a song about co-dependence?
“Thinking of You” is a catchy and powerful track containing the entire The Thermals package: It has those quick-witted drums from Glass, swooning guitars from Harris, and rousing chorus vocals from Foster. This song is about love and breakup, and so short (under two minutes) that you will be over your heartbreak at the end of this tune. Harris proves that you can also get over your breakup by singing, “I’ve been thinking about a lot of things // It helps to heal // It hurts to sing.”
Like with “The Great Dying,” “Always Never Be” is one of those undeveloped tracks that The Thermals put on in order to have a ten track album. Honestly, it’s a really boring track to the point where the sound of Harris’ monotone, rushed vocals makes want to run my nails across a chalkboard. Even the sound is “bleh” as there are no tempo changes, which I guess suits its namesake. The only saving grace to “Always Never Be” is the lyrics of, “I closed my eyes to see/we will always never be/we will never start a fight/we will never disagree/we will always never break/we will always never be.” If only only “Always Never Be” was actually an utopia of a song.
We Disappear ends on a dreary note with “Years in a Day.” If you want to feel like that you are forever stuck in a Twilight movie, then this is the song for you. It’s slow like molasses stuck in a dark, lonely, rainy city. The lyrics of “I was awake for only the darkest days // Barely alive with the angriest eyes” will stick a nail in a coffin and will philosophically question your reason of existence.
We Disappear is one of those albums that is reminiscent of wanting to expand your horizons, but still basking in almost-too-familiar surroundings. The Thermals tend to stick to a power-pop sound that’s comfortable to a fault, to which they sometimes can’t see what else is out there. There an immense amount of “Groundhog Day” feels on this album that I could not entirely get into with We Disappear.