Thrice is one of the most versatile bands of our generation, evolving from a post-hardcore outfit to atmospheric rockers and even political statesmen. Their rise in the early 2000’s peaked with The Artist In The Ambulance and Vheissu, but they’ve aged even better – with The Alchemy Index proving their experimental worth and Beggars offering some of their most important lyrical content to date. With Palms a mere week away from release, our staff felt that there would be no better time to reflect upon the top ten songs of this influential, generational band. With so much superb content to choose from, it just might have been our toughest ranking so far.
Thrice’s Water EP once provided me with one of the most transportative listening experiences of my life, which is strange because to this day I’ll reach for Fire or Air in a pinch every time. But in my childhood home, surrounded by mist like it frequently was and weirdly elevated from ground level at the back window like it always was, I sat listening to “Open Water” and staring out into a back garden I couldn’t see past a couple of metres. Some combination of Kensrue’s bone-weary mariner’s narration, the muffled dirge of the music and the weather outside made my teenage self feel in another place and time entirely, the first instance I can remember of music becoming more than just some sounds playing in my ears. “Open Water” is a grim counterpart to “The Messenger” and “Daedalus” insofar as they feature characters utterly exhausted with/disgusted by their respective elements. Water‘s variation on this is my favourite because of the simple, brutal economy with which the lyrics suggest a lifetime’s worth of terrifying narrative, one which my teenage self was free to imagine and create on that misty day. –Rowan
When I was initially creating my submission list for this feature, I was surprised to see that a significant chunk of my tentative list featured songs from The Artist in the Ambulance. There’s no disputing that this record played a critical role during my so-called ‘formative years’, and having recently celebrated its 15th birthday, I’m pleased that the album is represented here. 2003 is home to several stellar Sputnik-core releases – Brand New, Hot Cross, Streetlight Manifesto, Off Minor, Trophy Scars, Coheed & Cambria, Bear vs. Shark – so to have what’s arguably the most homogeneous of Thrice albums have such staying power through the years is testament to the band’s songwriting chops, hindsight bias notwithstanding. On the title track, the juxtaposition of two artists – one is seemingly a musician, the other a paramedic – highlights Kensrue’s knack for crafting metaphor in his lyrics, and the former’s introspection en route to the hospital (“I’m left here with the question of just / What have I to show except the promises I never kept? / I lie here shaking on this bed under the weight of my regrets”) is something we wrestle with as well — even if we’re not the ones strapped in the gurney. Similar to how a first responder can heal a victim physically, it’s not unheard of for musicians to heal listeners emotionally during troubling times. “The Artist in the Ambulance” is a perfect time capsule of where Thrice were at this point in their discography, with splendid drumming, melodic guitar leads, and a soaring vocal in the song’s anthemic bridge. Fifteen years and counting, there’s a reason why “Artist” is still frequently seen during the band’s Encore portion of their setlists. –Jom
In the liner notes for Vheissu, Thrice’s former manager Nick Bogardus likened the band to the biblical figure Samson, ready to bring the temple down around themselves. As the opener to their ambitious Alchemy Indexseries, “Firebreather” documents the moment that the pillars actually fell. The band leaves blood on the floor in one of their finest collective performances, but Dustin Kensrue deserves special mention for his vocals, especially in the powerful outro. When the song ends, the band moves into more experimental territory with the rest of Fire and Water, but “Firebreather” remains special for starting things off on such a strong note. In a career full of strong opening tracks, it is their strongest mission statement, a song that poses a question – “Are you free?” – and then answers it with a resounding yes. After the dust settles, Thrice starts laying the foundation for a new temple. –Channing Freeman
I have been listening to “The Earth Will Shake” for so many years that it took a lot of effort to hear it with fresh ears for this list. But it paid off with a moment that brought me back to the first few times that I heard it, when the song in particular and Vheissu in general seemed powerful enough to move mountains. This effect may have dulled over time, but what remains apparent is that “The Earth Will Shake” is one of the most unique rock songs ever created. For the song’s skeleton, the band took inspiration from field recordings of prison gangs and then bolstered it with guitar leads, organ accents, and some great Ed Breckenridge bass lines, especially in the hypnotic musical break halfway through. Then the music drops away completely as the band’s gang vocals imitate those field recordings, complete with the sound of pickaxes striking rocks. How they kept this from sounding gimmicky, I’ll never know. It all leads to Thrice’s most thrilling climax, the breathlessly repeated stanza that would become legendary as a set closer at their live shows: “Look to the day. The earth will shake. These weathered walls will fall away.” I have lost my voice screaming along to these lines at a show, and I’m sure many others have as well. –Channing Freeman
Following the ambitious, genre-bending Alchemy Index albums, Beggars finds Thrice simplifying their sound while continuing to experiment rewardingly. A fine balance is struck between more mellow offerings alongside their bombastic brand of modern rock. “Circles” follows the first two more rocking songs, being a stunning ballad and the finest track on the album. It might not have been able to exist on a previous Thrice album, possessing a gentle, sorrowful atmosphere and lyrics lamenting the lack of humanity’s real progress; “We’re building towers with no foundations, just stacking stone on stone. Whatever it takes – mix our mortar with bones.” Thrice had been exploring increasingly ambitious, even biblical and mythological themes in their recent records. From the poignant lyrics to the beautiful guitars, “Circles” shows how mature and adventurous the band had become since their inception. –TalonsOfFire
“Music Box” is my favorite Thrice song and let me just take a moment to assure you that this is most decidedly not due to any perceived similarities to the theme of the universally-beloved and not at all polarizing 2009 American science fiction drama Dollhouse. Like I literally don’t even know why you would bring that up, dude. Why would we even be talking about Dollhouse in 2018? Fucking c’mon academy–move on. You literally ALWAYS do this. Oh, look, a couple of normal, well-adjusted partygoers are talking Westworld and all the sudden, there you are, quoting Episode 204 (“Belonging”), or telling them that 204 was actually directed by Jonathan Frakes, or explaining that the reason 204 thru the end of the series was so good was actually because the show’s imminent cancellation forced the writers squeeze three seasons of planned plotlines into ten episodes. This is why you are going to die alone (you freakin loser!!). Anyway, so yea, “Music Box” has a soaring Thrice chorus and a strong, clear message about the intangible pull of love–true, genuine love– that can override even the most meticulous programming or that can (and will) re-appear on a slate no matter how many times it has been cleaned… (You ever try and clean an actual slate?) –theacademy
In my eyes. Thrice’s “Daedalus” is the pinnacle of their ambitious Alchemy era–a singular tale full of poetic drama, tied to one of the four classic elements. In any other setting the song would buckle under its own hokiness, but within the “Air” collection, it works. Dustin Kensrue’s typical cocksure songwriting gives gravitas to the tragic tale (Sowing only gave us 5-8 sentences so you can Google it yourself) which is told from the perspective of the father and his doomed attempt to give his son a better life . Again, with tongue planted firmly out of cheek, the melodrama shouldn’t work. But Thrice deliver “Daedalus” with such poise that you can’t help but feel every moment. –Xenophanes
Major/Minor is one of Thrice’s bleakest albums. Whereas records such as The Alchemy Index or Beggars offered up silver-lined warnings, this was the first instance – as far as my retrospective memory of Thrice is concerned, anyway – that the band looked at the world around them and just couldn’t find a way to make it into something potentially positive. Kensrue at various points laments the grim state of our society: “Our hearts are – they’re so deceitful, sick and filled with lies that lead to death”/ “We are cowards and thieves, will we never turn to grieve the damage done?” / “Never see, never quake with rage at what we have become.” The overwhelming bleakness made for a dense, uncomfortable listen.
There is really but one ray of light, and it comes in the form of ‘Anthology.’ The song sounds towering from the get-go, with massive guitar riffs that continue throughout the entire song, bolstered by some deceptively complex fills and solos – driving its momentum, and setting up immensely hopeful lines like “I know that we can see this through” and “We can weather the storm” to sound all the more confident. In fact, that’s what ‘Anthology’ boils down to: this knowing comfort that no matter how hopeless things may appear, we control the outcome of this world together. Kensrue’s gritty, passionate delivery during the chorus reminds us it won’t be easy – but like this song, it’ll be a labor of love. ‘Anthology’ marks Thrice’s most triumphant and self-assured statement; one that can be extrapolated and applied to our lives now more than ever. –Sowing
“I am in exile, a sojourner” is how Dustin Kensrue begins. He’s trying to get to “a city that endures when all is made new […] where there’ll be no pain or tears anymore”, a place with some undeniable Biblical overtones, but that’s almost less important than the simple fact that he’s trying to get there. Being apart from religion I should have no real stake in a song this faith-based, but Kensrue’s talent has always been taking a declaration of faith like “In Exile” and making it universal. “There’s no point in putting roots too deep when I’m moving on / not settling for this unsettling town” is about as good a line as the man’s ever written, and it has that sting of bitter, melancholic optimism that united a community of believers, atheists, agnostics – hell, probably Satanists – under the Thrice banner. Of course the place he’s looking for is an ideal and not a location, which casts Kensrue’s entire life from birth to death as the transitory phase of the journey. I can relate to feeling like a pilgrim for the duration of my life, and even though Kensrue is searching for the capital-H Christian vision of Heaven, you know when Riley Breckenridge’s rolling drum figure cues in that last coda of rapturous wordless vocals? That’s pretty damn close to heaven for me. –Rowan
The first time I heard the seamless transition from the instrumental “Night Diving” to “The Whaler”, I teared up. Songs don’t really affect me that way anymore, but I think it speaks to the power of Thrice’s music – especially their fruitful period between Vheissu and Beggars – that I can remember that reaction like it was yesterday. Sometimes when I hear this song, I can almost feel it again. It houses some of Dustin Kensrue’s finest writing, especially the slight lyrical difference in the chorus between the wife and child: the wife asks, “Will you be coming home to me?”, while the child asks, “When are you coming home to me?” because to her, it is a foregone conclusion that he will come back. His wife, however, knows the reality. Whalers were sometimes gone for years at a time, and survival was not guaranteed.
While I think Major/Minor and especially To Be Everywhere is to be Nowhere are both great albums, it is clear that Thrice lost some of their willingness to experiment once they stopped producing their own records. And it’s a real shame, because Water in particular is one of the best-produced albums I’ve ever heard (so much so that the live version of “The Whaler” can’t really match the power of the recording), and it’s even more amazing when you consider that this was their first time producing. They threw everything at the wall and most of it stuck. “The Whaler” is the ultimate example of what Thrice was, and I believe still is, capable of achieving. –Channing Freeman