If there was ever a band on which the reductive “emo” albatross was unfairly hung, it is Thursday. At a passing glance, the band might sound like blindly fired angst and formless guitar blasts. But more often than not, if you give the band a chance they will surprise you. So it is unfortunate that marketing might keep them stuck in the Hot Topic ghetto, since Common Existence shows that, once again, they deserve a look from a larger audience.
Early on, the disc feels like a return to older sounds. After the sonic rock spectacle of the Dave Fridmann-produced A City by the Light Divided, the lacerating guitars from opener “Resuscitation of a Dead Man” sound like the band dipping into their younger basement days in New Jersey. But something is different here. The melodies are tighter, there’s a little more room for the size of Geoff Rickly’s vocals, and the guitars swirl, with a menacing insistence, around each other instead of crashing together. There’s a tank-rumbling drive to the guitars on “Friends in the Armed Forces”, that forms a grinding wall of noise that, done as a choice and not as a default sound, sounds bracing on the track. Particularly when it clears away for a echoed, gliding breakdown.
Having left the major label ranks and joined Epitaph for this record, it isn’t surprising that the band has recaptured an immediate zeal in their sound. But while maturity has helped them tighten up their attack, they have also worked in some excellent surprises with these songs. Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath sings along with Rickly on “Resuscitation of a Dead Man”, and he sounds more energized than he has in years. The booze-fueled, late-night chaos of “Last Call” ends with a heartbreaking choir of broken voices, haunting the empty space after the music cuts out. “As He Climbed the Dark Mountain” ends with a slide-guitar melting over the track, working against the angular riffs that came before it.
“Time’s Arrow” is perhaps the biggest surprise, as Rickly works backwards through past regrets—referencing the time-bending Martin Amis novel—and the song glows with a hazy light, built on acoustic guitar and reverbed shuffles that sound like a tape in reverse. It’s an awfully restrained composition for Thursday, but the results are stunning, and “Time’s Arrow”, though it’s a quiet track on a guitar-driven album, is one of the best offerings on Common Existence.
If there’s an issue on Common Existence, though, it might be that Thursday get to have things their way a little too much. The records they released for Island—War All the Time and A City by the Light Divided—sound, in retrospect, fueled by the tensions between the band and their major label overlords. The label wanted singles to cash in on the pop-punk/emo boom, and Thursday wanted to, and did, expand their sonic palate in new and affecting ways. But now, given the option to do whatever they want, the band occasionally gets carried away. “Circuits of Fever” goes for the sonic heft that Fridmann helped them realize, but comes off just a little too bloated. Closer “You Were the Cancer” falls into a similar pit, with a synth breakdown filling in the middle of a song that just runs on too long, outlasting its own energy.
Rickly also runs the risk, as he tends to do, of being just a little too stark and overly serious on these songs. There is, after all, a track called “You Were the Cancer”. And the lyrics can fall into esoteric ruts, as in “This infrastructure calls for circular resuscitation”. But more often than not, the sheer power and emotion of Rickly’s voice pushes him through those rough spots. Common Existence makes Thursday sound like a band that has settled in their skin without lazily settling on a sound. They’ve pushed through the major label dramas and near break-ups and emerged on the other side with another solid record. Let’s put that “E”-word to rest and just call them what they are. A good rock band.
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