For a variety of reasons that I’m about to unpack, from end to end, Common Existence is the ultimate Thursday release. And while I’ve made the assertion that its follow-up, No Devolución, is the “best” release, Common Existence is the most “Thursday” sounding. Let me explain.
Their 5th full-length record, Common Existence follows a full three years after 2006’s A City By The Light Divided. And it doesn’t take long getting to top speed, exploding out of the gate: “Resuscitation of a Dead Man” is an immediate ripper. The first five tracks pummel at a relentless pace. It isn’t until “Time’s Arrow” at track six that listeners get a reprieve from the shearing cacophony.
Taking a step back though: I don’t want to gloss over any of the opening tracks, because they are downright heavy – both sonically and in their subject manner. Common Existence is at times quite bleak. Vocalist and talented writer Geoff Rickly’s thoughtful analyses of religion, politics and life’s mysteries make this album unforgettable for me.
As usual, Rickly is at his best when exploring deep topics that have no easy answers. This adherence to utilizing a post-hardcore band’s lyrics to intelligently discern concepts and institutions like marriage or joining the military may be offputting to some folks who don’t give much thought to philosophy.
But that’s what separates Rickly and Thursday from other bands in the scene. The fact is, it takes a certain kind of band or artist or writer to even be able to do such a thing within the context of their particular group. Not every lyricist can go out there and use their soapbox as grounds to rationalize something like where we go when we die, or if we even go anywhere – which is why I’m thankful a band and a dude like that exists. I mean, even the album’s title is careful, deliberate positing: it refers to the fact that we are all humans going through the same life, together.
On “As He Climbed the Dark Mountain,” Rickly writes “Do we go on alone?” The song is about marriage, so the implication of dying either without a mate or after your mate has gone on to whatever is next shows just how vulnerable he is. These type of incredibly human moments are littered all over Common Existence.
This album showcases Rickly’s soaring, anthemic vocals and his dynamic range better than any Thursday record yet. There are moments throughout these 45 minutes that give me chills. One of those instances comes on “Circuits of Fever.” The track launches with a circling, tinny guitar riff and tribal drums.
Producer Dave Fridmann (ACBTLD, No Devolución) who teamed with Thursday for each of their final three albums is able to put his masterful touch on the album with some clever effects. Three and a half minutes in, there is a chorus of what sounds like tons of layers of Rickly’s voice… pulling back into some abyss. If you’ve ever seen Jaws or The Shining, you know the effect I’m talking about – like a short room that stretches to infinity. It’s equal parts unique and trippy, and must be heard to be fully appreciated, as I’m sure I’ve butchered the description.
Another of these moments is on “Subway Funeral” – when the beat drops out, nothing left but a slow strumming guitar and Rickly screaming far away from a mic in what I’ll assume is a damp, dark room. Goosebumps, man.
But, for me, the album’s best song is far and away “Friends in the Armed Forces.” As the title implies, there is a palpable desperation knowing that someone you love could die (compounded by the fact that most of our wars lately have been largely unfounded and unnecessary).
Rickly takes it to the next level though, writing:
They’ll float like butterflies back home
And I can feel the desert’s heat
When you’re standing next to me
Friendship offers no relief
Stay with me now, just hear me out
Don’t want to lose you to that great black cloud
You see in the path a bullet makes
When it calls you by your name
And the medic can’t play the rhythm of your heart
So it starts to fade like footsteps in the march
The parade passes by our fingertips
As lives once were right
Damn, dude. Such a different perspective. It’s hypothetical, but moving and heartbreaking.
Common Existence is a ripper in all respects: killer vocals and intelligent lyrics, abrasive guitars, a machinesque drummer, organized but chaotic feedback, keys and effects – man, it has it all.
Also, for what it’s worth, this is the list of pictures for “Common Existence” on Google Images:
From their 2009 release (and penultimate album), this is Thursday’s “You Were the Cancer” –
Standout tracks: Supremely listenable record, but “Friends in the Armed Forces” and “Circuits of Fever” are impeccable.
Weakest track: No.
RIYL: Post-hardcore, art rock. Fear Before the March of Flames comes to mind at times.