What's happened to the Thermals? As recently as last year's Now We Can See, this Portland (Oregon) indie-punk band were taking on religious fanaticism, death, Armageddon — shit going haywire in general — and doing so with the playful spark of folks just psyched to be alive and creating clamor.
Personal Life is the anti–Now We Can See. The music suggests Archers of Loaf or Built To Spill (bands excellent at being forlorn), even if the Thermals' actual instrumentation has little kinship with '90s indie rock. Most jarring are the changes in guitarist/vocalist Hutch Harris: he still boasts the perky, nasal voice of a middle-schooler (not always a bad thing), but nearly everything he shouts here sounds either crestfallen or misguidedly hopeful. (From "Never Listen to Me," the nadir: "I'll give you all that I have/I'll tell you everything/Love me all of my life/Never listen to me.")
Even the group "oh-oh-way-oh-oh" that Harris leads in "Your Love Is So Strong" is funereal. Despite the band's ability to sound sincere even as they dramatically shift tonal gears, the excessive doses of ache can be tiring. There are rare glimmers here, but maturity sure is sobering.