Rock radio seems confused about what “rock” is. Folk-pop-rap-rock goofs like Judah and the Lion and Rainbow Kitten Surprise are gaining traction. The mid-‘00s wave of post-Deftones, sanitized nu-metal seems a long, long time ago. But there are survivors still taking scraps from the charts. Chevelle is improbably still going strong, Deftones is enough of an institution that it doesn’t matter; then there’s the curious case of Thrice.

An undoubted staple from that era, Thrice were outsiders sneaking into pop success. With a decidedly political and religious bent to their work, it was surprising that they sustained popularity for so long. Much of their longevity can be traced to Vheissu, their 2005 pop/post-Hardcore ripper that synthesized …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead headiness and shimmery clean choruses built to fill up a stadium. Thankfully, they haven’t been riding those coattails. It was just two years ago that they released the disturbing and excellent To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere. But Palms finds Thrice at a stalemate. Do they fully discard their alt-rock past or wade back into the radio world that seems poised to leave them behind?

The opening duo answers with a resounding shrug. “Only Us” rides John Carpenter-style synths, hinting at more Depeche Mode-indebted albums in the future. It stands alongside the best on To Be Everywhere, but is followed by “The Grey,” which is featherweight Converge. From then on, Palms hedges its bets, switching between more experimental tendencies and radio safety.

It’s not that they don’t have the talent to do both sides, but the catch-up game they’re playing with modern alt-rock is a lost cause. The sappy “Everything Belongs” and “My Soul” are admirable for appropriately sing-along choruses but feel unforgivably formulaic. We might look back on this era wincing that we let Imagine Dragons get away with hook-only songwriting. That mode of lazy craftsmanship has infected much of rock radio and Thrice haven’t gotten away unscathed. Even the hardcore track “A Branch in the River” can’t shake generic chorus work, as predictable as it is yawn worthy. “Hold Up a Light” tries to bridge the distance between pop-rock and hardcore and ends up failing in both worlds. Dustin Kensrue doesn’t have the same hoarse croak he once did, and though he’s become a good crooner, his attempts at harsher sounds are Seether-lite on Palms.

Thrice do briefly get back on track as the album closes. The folktronica influenced “Blood on Blood” begins with Kensrue growling that he’s “gearing up for a holy war.” There are hints of The Notwist mixed with a pinch of math rock and it’s a good look for Thrice. Considering their biblical references and uneasy view of the modern world, an equally uncomfortable sound enhances the tension wonderfully. And that’s all before a harp cascades out of nowhere, lending a heavenly sound to the hellish descriptions of war.

Often, a well-established band treading into experimental sounds can result in a train wreck. Palms is the opposite. When Thrice trend chases or falls back on tired tropes they falter. Their lastest is fascinating and engaging when they indulge in proggy mosh starters or ‘80s worship. The old well has dried up, it’s time for Thrice to move on.

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