September 17, 2021 Thrice – Horizons/East (Album Review)
In a time characterized by violent noise, where many are spitting their venomous opinions as facts, to be heard above the din takes sophistication and a level of elegance as well as perseverance. Bands such as Thrice have been doing just this for decades now, spinning their astute observations on humanity into intelligent prose. This does not change on their latest, Horizons/East, which became available for streaming on Friday, September 17, 2021 via Epitaph Records. All physical releases will arrive on October 8th.
A titan of Post-Hardcore, Thrice has managed what so many cannot: fan loyalty across decades, shifting musical trends, and a world now controlled by fickle streaming platforms. Despite these hurdles, the band has consistently nudged its listeners to keep their minds open to embracing the possibilities that exist within the gray, thereby influencing many to seek more—in life as well as in music.
But it all started simply, back in the late ‘90s while still in high school in Orange County, California. Five years later, with the release of their third studio LP, The Artist in the Ambulance, the quartet cracked the Billboard Alternative Songs chart (“All That’s Left,” “Stare at the Sun”) and suddenly found themselves recognized for their undeniable talents. Their breakthrough disc’s follow-up, 2005’s Vheissu, continued to solidify their respectable reputation, laying the groundwork for a career that has seen the release of six additional full-lengths over the past 16 years—most recently, 2018’s Palms.
Their discography, of course, is about to add a plus-one. Self-produced by Thrice—Frontman Dustin Kensrue, Guitarist Teppei Teranishi, Bassist Eddie Breckenridge, and Drummer Riley Breckenridge—and mixed by Scott Evans (Kowloon Walled City, Town Portal), their seventh studio album, Horizons/East, holds strong to long-running lyrical themes of the intricacies of the human experience and our perceptions of the world around us. Where the new release differs, however, is in its melding seemingly unrelated topics to show the interconnectedness of life. In this, these 10 tracks are exactly what their press release purports: “a profoundly meditative work which serves as a musical summons to everyday attentiveness.”
Still, it’s hard to predetermine exactly what one should expect from a Thrice release and how the material will play out. Horizons/East plays with this uncertainty throughout its duration, but begins by stroking the senses, raising each baby-fine hair across the listener’s body as Kensrue’s first intimate vocal notes appear on “Color of the Sky.” A metaphoric look at finding your way outside the walls of what confines you, the track opens the LP with a sense of serenity and hope amidst the present gloom. A defiance of the overwhelming maelstrom that is 2021, it’s a reassuring push that, though it will require a strong will and determination, there is something more awaiting each of us.
This theme abounds throughout the collection, as do cinematic feels. In certain moments, the influence can even feel a bit Kubrickian in nature as Thrice plunges into the depths of nuance, exploring simplicity in a bold manner. Raw and dusky at times, the album sees the quartet continuing to color outside the lines, particularly in the haunting “Robot Soft Exorcism,” where listeners are urged to be the cog that breaks the wheel. Showing the interconnectedness of the seemingly unrelated, it is a song that pairs well with “Summer Set Fire to the Rain,” a reminder that everything we encounter in our lives can be perceived through infinite lenses. Meanwhile, dizygotic twin “The Dreamer” seeks answers that we already possess, with Kensrue pleading: “Who is the dreamer, and what is the dream, and what’s hidden in-between?”
And this “in-between” is the space where the bulk of Horizons/East exists: both joyously frustrated and dismally hopeful. It sinks enticing claws beneath the skin on catchy songs like the gritty “Scavengers,” which is capped off with a deliciously thick bass groove thanks to Eddie Breckenridge. Providing an immediate encore, Breckenridge continues to slay on the military-industrial complex protest “Buried in the Sun,” then later helms the opening notes of “Still Life,” a murky watercolor that oozes languidly down its bittersweet sonic canvas.
While each of these place emphasis on each tumultuously poetic word, there are understated moments, too, like the delicate crawl through the bluesy “Dandelion Wine” and the piano waterfall of album closer “Unitive/East,” a final hope for peace and serenity that echoes back to the album’s beginning while delivering a lyrical nod to mewithoutYou. Backtracking, “Northern Lights” is yet another stand-out on an album full of magical moments. Its piano work could certainly make the inimitable Norah Jones swoon as Thrice seeks to find a better way to co-exist and embrace a loving future, and does so with a guitar riff borne of the Fibonacci sequence. How many bands would even attempt that?
Likely only Thrice, who deliver every note with a technical precision that is imbued with passion. The intent is never to strut their talents or show-up any of their contemporaries, but to challenge themselves to paint their words in new mediums. In this, Horizons/East is similar to other releases from the band—fraught with poetic lyrics that are meant to provoke thought—but packaged in a uniquely juxtaposed shell. Meant to strike an individual chord with each listener on their own personal level, it is an album that asks listeners to be the dreamer, to demand more, and to challenge themselves to see the world from new perspectives each and every day. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Thrice’s Horizons/East 5 out of 5 stars.