Thrice – “Palms” (Sept 14, 2018)
The Post-hardcore legends Thrice have returned after two years since To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere, and just about four years since lead singer Dustin Kensrue departed from his position as worship pastor at Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church. Anyone familiar with the Thrice back catalogue, as well as Kensrue’s solo work, will find a lot of familiarity here. This album continues the trajectory of recent releases from this group, with the screaming vocals of earlier work essentially all gone, and the “experimental” edges of the band existing in a more tempered, subtle form. Don’t take this for tameness or blandness, though. This album is deeply creative, forward-thinking, and layered.
To get right to the point, Palms succeeds because of very good songwriting. The instrumental performance and musicianship are of course stellar because it’s Thrice we’re talking about here, but the stars of the show here are the lyrics, the melodies, and Kensrue’s gravelly, textured singing voice. While this is only a hardcore record in as much as it is a post-grunge, alternative rock outing, there is something hardcore about it, which is the level of soul-searching and emotional depth that have been injected into each of these songs.
Thrice has managed to hold up a mirror to our current cultural climate and take a spiritual measurement of it, all without breaking with their own sense of artistic conviction or jeopardizing their legitimacy as a general-market band. Kensrue’s words are critical and cutting both in their inward and outward thrust. These songs see problems in the world around, and feel those same problems lurking within the self. The sum total product is a deeply reflective, honest, and at times gut-wrenching album that thrives on delivering maximal emotional impact.
Every song on this album has a distinctive identity. While cuts like The Grey and A Branch In The River deliver something closer to the bands punk roots, songs like Blood On Blood offer a more atmospheric sound, layered in acoustic guitars, pretty synths, and haunting falsettos. The record is broken up in the middle by Everything Belongs, a sincere piano-driven ballad that stands out as perhaps one of the strongest tracks.
Thrice is at a point in their career where they can probably get away with almost anything, and it is deeply rewarding to see them use their longevity and experience to get away with being really, really, really good. On a band’s tenth major release, one might expect to hear compromises, sellout tracks, mainstream corporate straw-grasping, or over-reliance on nostalgia. Instead, Thrice just gives us honest, emotional, well-written and expertly executed music. It’s not as hard-edged as they have been in the past, but Palms proves that it doesn’t have to be because this band doesn’t have to do anything we want them to in order to still be excellent.
(P.S. If you’re not a huge fan of harder rock music, but have been curious about trying it out, this is the 2018 album for you. This is a band that will give you UNDERGROUND MUSIC SCENE CLOUT and make you seem like you have really good taste, all while also being deeply melodic and accessible in ways that other heavy records might not be. I’m deeply impressed with this album, and really do recommend it. A lot of people in the hardcore community are actually expressing disappointment with this album, but I think it really stands up, and it’s a good introduction to them for the uninitiated.)