In 2003, Thrice released The Artist In The Ambulance, the album that would ultimately be seen as their turning point, and the benchmark for when they became true staples within 2000s emo and post-hardcore. That was fifteen years ago though, and while so many of their then-peers have been more than content with simply rehashing their past and ploughing in circles with dated, uninteresting releases, Thrice have been the perfect example of how to age gracefully. It had definitely been a long process as more derivative post-hardcore was shed for more nuance and experimentation, but 2016’s To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere will likely be held as an essential release for this band, revamping themselves almost entirely for a straight-up rock album positively overflowing with passion that would be fully befitting of their former emo guise, but undoubtedly more mature and with a sense of anger that felt resolute. Obviously it came as a surprise for what it was, but for a suckerpunch of that magnitude that ended up as one of the best albums of that year was something that very few could ever have predicted.
It also made it difficult to predict where Thrice would go next, though. There was something about that album that felt like an endpoint in Thrice’s artistic evolution, reaching a stage of maturity that was so perfectly formed in its own right that there was little that could be done to move it forward. But just like To Be Everything Is To Be Nowhere defied all expectations, Palms does exactly the same, taking what Thrice had achieved last time round and almost deconstructing it, spanning a greater breadth of styles and influences and nailing pretty much every one of them.
Naturally then, this is a much more diverse listen in almost every aspect, the greatest moments of which can be genuinely stunning. It’s most prevalent in the greater influence from indie-rock this time around, though keeping it as rugged and earthy as possible alongside a stellar sense of tension and rawness from Dustin Kensrue’s creaking vocals; even away from outright musicality, the sound is just incredible. It leads to tracks like Everything Belongs with its aching piano lines that sound like an early Coldplay song with more muscle, and the gorgeous closer Beyond The Pines that stays very restrained instrumentally but is utterly masterful in its churning, shirt-tugging melancholy. And among all of this, Kensrue really does remain the key component in making these songs as good as they are; rarely does a vocalist capture a sense of unaltered melancholy as well as this, and the audible imperfections and cracks left in only make his performance all the stronger. Even if some of the more indie-inspired moments don’t always land, like the errant harp section in Blood On Blood, Kensrue remains the key factor in keeping this greatness always at arm’s reach.
That’s also the case for Palms’ heavier moments, albeit without quite as much of a sense of beauty to them. They’re still far from bad, but there’s really not a moment of true transcendence like on Everything Belongs or My Soul which are just wonderful in every conceivable way. Here, while not exactly hit-or-miss given that Thrice are far more consistent quality-wise than that, moments of stumbling become a bit more evident, like A Branch In The River which clearly wants to be heavier and hark back to the band’s post-hardcore roots in places, but the vocals never quite click in this mould. Other than that though, Thrice feel so comfortable in this current lane, but without ever sounding lazy, and so tracks like The Dark and Hold Up A Light sound so thick and full without every straying off the mark. Across the board, the production on this album is absolutely perfect, keeping the guitars dark and heavy with the ragged edges left on, and knowing when to ebb back without losing any of its imposing sense. A song like Just Breathe exemplifies this best, falling back to let Kensrue’s and Emma Ruth Rundle’s aching harmonies ring out, but without sacrificing any of its tumultuous rumble or tar-thick creep.
And that’s ultimately what keeps Thrice a cut above the majority of other bands, period. Throughout Palms, there’s a great sense of depth and fluidity, all without feeling the need cut themselves down to do so. This is no less resolute as Thrice portrayed themselves on To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere, and thus while Palms slightly falls back in comparison, the difference really is negligible. Most of all though, it shows how fruitful this current era of Thrice actually is, and what it can achieve through straightforward, no-nonsense rock songs overflowing with passion and emotion. They’re close to being one of the best bands in the world at this point, something that the vast majority of acts twenty years into their career will never reach.
For fans of: Manchester Orchestra, Circa Survive, Captain We’re Sinking
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Palms’ by Thrice is released on 14th September on Epitaph Records.