Side Note

Farewell to The Thermals, a pop-punk band ahead of their time

“We are officially disbanding!” The Thermals, one of the great indie rock bands of the 21st century, wrote today on Twitter. “After 15 years and 7 records, we feel our band has reached far beyond our initial expectations and goals, and are stepping away from it while we still cherish it.” It was a surprising, though not entirely surprising announcement: Though the band’s last record was released in 2016, it’s been more than a decade since they released a conversation-seizing LP. In the years since, they’d just become a very good, dependable band — a worthwhile thing, of course, but also the kind of satisfying career that allows one to call it a day after enough good memories.

I’m an old millennial, so I remember the Thermals mostly for 2006’s The Body, The Blood, The Machine, which was a rare thing of the time: a pop-punk record that was actually mature. The discourse has smiled better on bands like blink-182 and Green Day in the last few years, as many new bands have openly cited such bratty, brash insouciance as a formative influence, but when the Thermals came around it was very much not the hip sound of the moment. But a pop-punk band they were, and an adult one at that, combining solemn, soul-searching missives with chunk power chords and nasal hooks.

Listening today, for the first time in a while, their music still sounds incredibly catchy and well-written — a balance that pop-punk bands usually struggled to find. Check out a song like “A Pillar of Salt” or “Returning to the Fold” or “How We Know” or “When I Died” — passionate, probing, dynamic, all of that good shit. Many bands of their era are still giving it a go, which makes the news of their breakup almost surprising, as it might not have been difficult for them to continue recording and touring for as long as they wanted. But when you’ve got such a solid artistic bedrock, it’s easier to move onto the next thing.