Twenty years and 10 albums into a career that has crossed boundaries, California’s Thrice are back with Palms, their second post-hiatus long player. There’s something special about Thrice: moving from barely-tuned punk (1998’s Identity Crisis) to scene-seizing hardcore (2002’s The Illusion of Safety), through one of the only exciting mature albums to emerge from the screamo scene of the mid-oughts (the hugely underrated Vheissu), and even a concept album that kept the songs tight and avoided self-indulgence (The Alchemy Index), they have consistently used genre as an inspiration, not a prison, and served up some of the best alternative music of the last couple of decades in the process. They’ve even managed that almost-never-seen phenomenon: going on hiatus, promising to be back, and then actually returning. While it’s easy to bundle them with their peers in the post-hardcore scene of 15 years ago (think Thursday, Brand New and Manchester Orchestra), Thrice have been plowing their own furrow for years.
Following on from 2016’s To Be Everywhere is to be Nowhere, their first album after a hiatus of 3 years, Palms is an odd beast: while the band are clearly still moving forward, there’s a palpable sense of comfortable professionalism in this record. It means it’s slick and powerful – no small feat for a record made largely in guitarist Teppei Teranishi’s home studio – but youthful screaming can’t last forever, and Thrice find themselves working to replace ardor with flat-out technique.
At so many points in Palms, they achieve that without breaking a sweat: ‘The Grey’ is a spiritually-charged insistence on humility as the thing that will save us from fundamentalism of all sorts; “The Dark” is a cast-of-literal-thousands track featuring iPhone recordings from Thrice fans mixed faultlessly into a chorus of hope and dissent; “Beyond the Pines” is, in the tradition of fan favorites “Red Sky” (from Vheissu), “Beggars” (2009’s Beggars), and “Salt and Shadow” (TBEITBN), a palate-cleanser and a crescendo, bringing together everything that’s gone before it on the album and making it into something wholly unexpected. In this case, it’s a tender yet rasping ballad, fading to a soft silence. The high points are high.
But elsewhere on the album, lyrics fade into fuzziness (“A Branch in the River” and “My Soul”), and riffs on recognizable styles don’t really succeed in escaping the genres that inspired them (“Hold Up a Light” is a hymn to plunging power-chords, and not much more; “Just Breathe” is a regression to post-hardcore tics that are nothing special amongst their previous genre-defining efforts).
By their own high standards, Palms is not a classic Thrice album, lacking the sense of excitement and discovery that marked out previous records: but to come in the middle of the pack in a discography like Thrice’s is no shameful thing. It’s an achievement to create an album that draws inspiration from sources as wide as Vangelis (listen to “Only Us” and find a song that’s what would happen if you pulled Blade Runner into a verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure and gave it a heart) and hipster’s favorite monk Richard Rohr (“Everything Belongs”), and brings them together into a meaningful whole. Palms is forthright, heartfelt and assured; the product of a band who knew, going into the studio, exactly what they wanted to make, for good and ill.
Thrice w/ The Bronx plays The Regency Ballroom in San Francisco // November 2, 2018 // 8 p.m.