Review Summary: I will meet you there, beyond the pines.
Thrice is safely in the second half of their career, and it's been a much less explosive half than the first. After the growth from Identity Crisis
to The Alchemy Indexes
, the band has settled into a permanent genre and is now releasing its fourth consecutive alternative rock album. There's no doubt that their musicianship and production is the best it's ever been—or at least on par with their previous outing, To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere
shares a great deal with the aforementioned album: at their best, a lesson in rock mastery; at their worst, a confusing and frustrating experience.
There were instances in previous releases where Thrice made it clear they wanted archetypical songs, but few have been so pronounced as those featured on Palms
. The typical rock album, featuring mostly mid-tempo tracks with a token hard rock banger, a piano-driven ballad, and a sing-along anthem, has rightly been derided as formulaic. In a way, it's heartbreaking to see such a unique band fall into that trend. I might have doubts of it happening if it weren't so obvious, such as literally calling upon fans to sing along for part of a song, only to underwhelmingly limit its use to a brief outro. A standout for one of Thrice's worst tracks, "Hold Up a Light," is so mindless that it's a wonder how it made the cut for the final release. Lyrically speaking, several of the tracks are all too generic. "The Dark" features so many tired cliches that even Benjamin Burnley would cringe, and the album's primary single, "The Grey," is only marginally better.
Despite these disappointing aspects of Palms
, there is more than enough to redeem it, particularly on the record's back half where guitarist Teppei Teranishi and the Breckenridge brothers in the rhythm section are given the freedom they deserve. The band borrows musical ideas from previous records, refining them and building upon them. "A Branch In The River" feels like a darker companion to Major/Minor's
"Blur" with its jarring chorus; "My Soul" feels like a lighter companion to Beggar's
"Wood and Wire." Thrice even ventures out with "Blood on Blood," a song that feels like a love letter to In Rainbows
. I personally wonder if Kensrue was listening to the ballads on last year's Go Farther In Lightness
when writing "Everything Belongs." Each of these influences succeed at pushing the band to perform at their best, while the more uninspired tracks end up seeming incomplete.
As I reached the end of my first listen to Palms
in ambivalence, closer "Beyond The Pines" struck me so profoundly that I feel it deserves a special mention. Thrice has a tendency to close their records with especially memorable songs, and the contrast in quality between this one and the rest of Palms
is stark. For the first time, Kensrue takes the album's recurring lyrical themes of unity and solidarity and channels them into a poetic promise that leaves the listener with only his voice and ensuing silence. It makes an impactful final impression and proves that despite all of the arguable mistakes earlier in the record, Thrice still has as much potential as they ever did.
Do we judge a band, or in this instance, an album, based on its best work, its worst, or its overall average quality" It's particularly difficult to rate an album where I feel compelled to skip some tracks, but still adore the majority of them. For every feeling of dissatisfaction I have with the half-baked ideas of "The Dark" and "Hold Up a Light," I am equally enamored by the band's brilliance on the rest of the back half. Ultimately, Palms
leans towards being too thin on quality ideas, even when that quality is impeccable.