The days of the lo-fi, rambunctious Thermals are firmly put to rest on their 2009 album Now We Can See. The almost violent youthful energy of their first records has slowly changed into something more measured musically, more thoughtful lyrically. The duo's (Hutch Harris on guitar, vocals, and words, Kathy Foster on drums and bass) previous album The Body, the Blood, the Machine was a political, passionate album that successfully accounted for the growing maturation of the band's sound with fire and fervor. This album is a different story. It's the first record where the band's conceit sounds like old hat, the first album where it sounds like they are professional musicians and not just a couple of rabble rousers making joyous, tortured noise. To blame are the slick production, the chord progressions on songs like "When I Died" that are pre-fab rock & roll, some radio-friendly guitar solos, and the sometimes pedestrian nature of the lyrics. The alternating ultra-confessional "I' songs and anthemic "we" songs are tiring instead of inspiring, and the passion in Harris's voice can't rescue them. It sounds like the fire that burned so brightly within them has dimmed, and instead of embracing the change and trying something new, they are trying to fight through it using technique and it ends up sounding forced and kind of bland. The album isn't a total disaster, though, there are a few songs that manage to overcome the record's flaws and deliver some excitement. "Now We Can See" has an ultra-hooky chorus and a nice, rollicking riff, "You Dissolve" brings in some piano to brighten the sound, and most promisingly, "At the Bottom of the Sea" is a restrained, moody ballad that shows a possible way forward for the band. Ditch the forced rock & roll and get melancholy and quiet. It may scare off some of their fan base, but making another album as formulaic and uninspired as Now We Can See will likely leave them with no fan base at all.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra