In a music landscape marred by redundancy and bands that live well beyond their shelf life, it's refreshing to hear Thrice sound as vibrant as ever, more than a decade after they formed. Their newest album, Major/Minor, just might be their crowning achievement thus far.
The Irvine-based band released the follow-up to 2009’s stellar Beggars this week, and it’s a near-perfect encapsulation of the genre-shifting they’ve done since emerging among the "post-hardcore"crowd in the late ‘90s.
No, there’s no Deadbolt or All That’s Left on Major/Minor, but anyone who has followed the band throughout the years knows they’re an entirely different band now.
Replacing the angst and aggro-metal riffs from Identity Crisis and The Illusion of Safety with introspection and a subdued intensity that has come to be their calling card, Thrice should be the envy of many bands: they fully have their own identifiable sound.
Yellow Belly kicks things off with what could be the “heaviest” song on the record; its rough, distorted riff and Dustin Kensrue’s throaty vocal delivery is a telling introduction to the album. By the time Riley Breckenridge’s drums come in, the song explodes into a fury of organized chaos. Kensrue is a master at shout-singing without coming across as abrasive, as he seemingly runs his vocal chords raw with the amount of passion he puts into every syllable.
Promises starts with a steadily increasing rhythm and Teppei Teranishi’s workmanlike riffage, before again exploding into a gorgeous blend of melody and energy. Much like how The Weight explored the concept of marriage and commitment, Promises touches on those themes as well, with Kensrue offering thought-provoking lines like We promise pretty things/ And we pledge with diamond rings; We profess undying love/ But does that word hold any weight?/ We reserve the right to break/Any vow that draws our blood. It’s one of the album’s strongest tracks, although to simplify Major/Minor in such a way would take away from its impact.
Songs like Blinded and Cataracts are the natural progression from the sort of experimentation carried out on Vheissu and Beggars, but with a more…relaxing feel to them. That’s not to say they’re “mellow”; rather, the groove-oriented feel and squealing, post-grunge guitars displayed on Cataracts come across more like Thrice exploring new avenues rather than re-visiting past territory.
That’s really the best quality of Major/Minor: As a band, Thrice have their own unique, identifiable sound now. While most bands struggle for “that sound” that truly sets them apart from their peers, Thrice have achieved it, and it comes across on each song on this album. Kensrue’s masterful vocal performances, Teranishi’s top-notch guitar work, Eddie Breckenridge’s driving bass or Riley Breckenridge’s steady drums have never sounded better, and that’s not a critique of anything they’ve done in the past. They’re just at the top of their game now.
The gorgeous, sprawling Call It in the Air might be one of the best songs Thrice have ever made. In it, the uncertainty of life and its unpredictability are matched with the ideal sonic atmosphere for such themes. A coin tossed into the air will come down/ it will come down somewhere/ Your life is a coin in the air/ it will come down somewhere, Kensrue sings in a hushed tone. His words accentuate the slow, building instrumentation, taking on a sense of urgency and earnestness before leading to a monumentally powerful chorus aided by dark, ominous guitar chords. Life IS as simple as a coin toss, for better or worse, and Thrice couldn’t possibly have expressed that sentiment any more poetically than with Call it in the Air.
Treading Paper continues the melancholic atmosphere created by the previous track, providing even more rich melodies (both in the guitars and vocals) matched with Kensrue’s strained words about restlessness and, again, uncertainty: Because I contend that all of this is more than just a meaningless charade/ That each and every moment is a bottle with a message hid away he says, and the delivery is just amazing.
Blur provides a burst of energy and aggression that counteracts the more tranquil stylings of the previous two songs, before Words in the Water and Listen Through Me bring back the reflective tones. He laid aside his crown/ All our crimes he carried/Was lifted from the ground/With our burdens buried, Kensrue sings on Listen Through Me, a not-so-subtle reference to Jesus. Not many bands would dare throw a song that is implicitly pro-religion on an album, but Thrice do just that with this one. Kensrue has even noted that he had to be careful, considering even his own band mates aren’t the most devout individuals themselves; his own spirituality inspired the song, yet it refrains from coming across as heavy-handed. Well done.
The album closes with Anthology, another candidate for “best thing Thrice has ever done” and Disarmed. The emotive earnestness of Anthology, with its building, swelling guitars and positively uplifting vocals, would have made a fantastic album-capper, but Disarmed brings things to an end with an affecting, cathartic feel. The guitars and backing vocals swirl around at the end, acting as a sensory exclamation point to an emotional album. Musically, this is a life-affirming record, despite its dark lyrical themes, and Disarmed ends it all in a fitting manner.
Major/Minor is simply a near-perfect record. VERY few bands continue to progress and expand with each album without a few misfires here and there; Thrice just don’t adhere to that formula. Each album is more impressive and more challenging than the last. Major/Minor is the definition of a “grower” album, too: it may not be as immediate as Vheissu or Beggars, but if you put in the time, it just might end up being your favorite Thrice record of them all.
They’re a special band, and Major/Minor is a special accomplishment.