You have to pick one: an album you enjoy or an album that the artist is happy with.
I’m not here to say either answer is correct or to call those who don’t enjoy Thrice’s long-awaited comeback, and ninth studio album, To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere, selfish or wrong. But let’s be honest and say that rarely does artistic growth and vision mesh completely with fan expectation. Essentially, I’m arguing that there are going to be some fans who are disappointed with Thrice’s new album. As unfortunate as that is, the band should take solace in knowing they’ve crafted their best work in years.
This album feels fluid as it shifts stylistically every few tracks. It’s clear that the time taken off since 2011 was not put to waste and “Hurricane” is potentially the band’s strongest opening track to date. A distorted acoustic guitar introduces the verse’s light, electronic flourishes, echoing The Pixies’ “Where is My Mind” before crushing guitars signal the song’s sweeping chorus. Kensrue has never sounded better, his voice carrying more soul and emotion than ever before.
The band loses no momentum transitioning into “Blood in the Sand,” a high energy single notable for Kensrue’s high-pitched snarl as he sings, “There’s blood on the sand/There’s blood in the street/And there’s a gun in my hand/Or there might as well be/And I’m sick of it.” As a whole, Thrice seem like a band who have taken something from each album, and Kensrue as a lyricist has ultimately moved away from religious references in favor of political turmoil and social unrest. These themes appear prominently in songs like “Whistleblower,” “Black Honey,” and “Death From Above” — the latter sporting a devastating chorus riff that would make Mastadon proud. “The Window” places its grungy guitar work upfront, recalling Radiohead as the track is backed by light and versatile percussion. Together, the album’s first and last quarters represent an artistic high and the side of Thrice most fans have likely come to expect.
From my reading, it seems that the most common criticism of the first released singles have been by including some meaningless genre tag like “radio rock.” Silly comparisons were made to bands like Nickelback and Three Days Grace because, well, those are rock bands that get played on the radio. At this point it’s unnecessary to go into why these comparisons make no sense stylistically, but they’re also strange because Thrice have been a rock band receiving radio play since 2003. To criticize a ripper like “Blood in the Sand” for fitting on the radio but not, say, fan favorites “Under a Killing Moon” or “Image of the Invisible” seems strange.
The only real misstep here is “Wake Up,” the track most similar to 2011’s lackluster Major/Minor. The song pits an out-of-place blues verse against a generic Foo Fighters-esque chorus riff. But even this is enjoyable enough in context. The album’s midsection is filled with some of the band’s catchiest and, dare I say, radio-ready songs yet. “The Long Defeat” and “Black Honey” sound like they could be alt-rock staples, equal parts straightforward and triumphant. However, the standout is “Stay With Me,” a rare uplifting moment in Thrice’s catalog featuring haunting verses sung in Kensrue’s lower register. It’s a moment rivaled only by the album’s beautiful closing track, “Salt and Shadow,” a special nod to fans who herald The Alchemy Index and the band’s experimentation with atmosphere on Vol. III: Air. The way it pairs perfectly with the album opener is a thing of beauty.
So with all of this in mind, who does this album most please? In theory, it should please anyone who has latched onto one of the band’s genre-challenging albums post-2003. To Be Everywhere is the definition of a career-spanning album; it’s all here, from the more direct songwriting structure of The Artist in the Ambulance to the textures and tones of fan-favorite Vheissu. But ultimately this album feels most connected to Thrice’s 2009 masterpiece, Beggars. Sonically speaking, this album feels like a natural follow-up by taking Beggars’ minimalistic tendencies and focus on rhythm and blowing them up to epic proportions. They may have dialed back on the experimental song structures but pushed further into lush arrangements that allow the instruments to breath.
If after 42 minutes of new Thrice you still feel the need to reduce the band’s output to “radio-rock,” that’s honestly fine, because as a band who continues to stretch and expand genres, they deserve all the radio airplay they get and they write rock songs. Simply put, To Be Everywhere is To Be Nowhere is one of the best “rock” records of 2016 and an ambitious entry into Thrice’s already stunning catalog.