This is the fourth album from the lovably scrappy Portland (Oregon) trio, but it might as well be their 400th. Led by clear-voiced singer/guitarist Hutch Harris, the Thermals have such a specific sense of the kind of music they want to make — fuzz-drenched garage pop à la Superchunk circaOn the Mouth —
that you get the sense they'll just keep pumping out songs forever, each one as effortlessly catchy and as deceptively profound as the one before.
Harris's favorite trick as a songwriter — besides using his choruses to stack up tidy vocal harmonies like building blocks — is an oldie-but-goodie: coupling bright tuneage with grim topics. On 2006's The Body, the Blood, the Machine, he sang about life under a modern theocracy. The theme du jour on Now We Can See — the band's debut for Kill Rock Stars after a lengthy stint on Sub Pop — is what happens after that. Namely, death.
In fact, Now We Can See is about life, but as seen from the perspective of somebody without it. Over surging guitars, muscular bass, and get-the-job-done drums, Harris describes the futility of fear and the aimlessness of addiction and how it would feel to hang out at the bottom of the ocean. His increasing lyrical precision and the added sturdiness of his melodies could tempt you to call this album the Thermals' best effort yet. Harris probably wouldn't, though — he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who sits around and ponders the virtues of improvement.
THE THERMALS | Middle East downstairs, 480 Mass Ave, Cambridge | May 7 @ 9 pm | $14 | www.mideastclub.com