It's amazing, really, how the Thermals have managed to pick apart a series of vast and complicated themes - religion, death and now, with their fifth album, love - using only the most basic tools. There are no strings, no climactic orchestral flourishes and none of the grandstanding employed by a world of bigger, crasser acts. Any such tropes are pushed to the side in favour of rudimentary 4/4 time signatures, insistent bass plunks and fuzz-coddled guitar as the background for Hutch Harris' emotive keening.
Quieter and less-abrasive than its predecessors, the lack of cranky punk rippers is at first a little disarming. It's not until the weary strum and harrowingly sparse percussion of Alone, a Fool that the trio could really be said to derogate from the well-trodden path that has placed them alongside such esteemed (if grumbly) indie rock company as Sebadoh, Silkworm and The Wrens. Still, for all the simplicity and lack of surprises the sheer skill with which these songs have been put together will ensure they're buried deep at the back of your brain. Choruses, melodies and smile-inducing "ooh-ee-ooh"s creep like tendrils, and will soon enough send up crisp green shoots through the topsoil of your consciousness.
Whether fragile, rapt or indignant, each song manages to capture those pivotal moments that can be found in any doomed relationship, condensing them down to brief, bare, sugar-coated bursts that sparkle fleetingly before grudgingly giving way to the next. While the proclamations are bold, there's precious little by way of grand hand-wringing gestures or mawkish self-pity no matter how desperate the situation. Instead, Harris and co lay out the basic facts as they see them and know full-well that to do so is enough, regardless of how quietly the tales are told. It is this conviction, perhaps above all else, that helps make Personal Life another crackling success for a band who've built a career on telling humble, heartbreaking, indisputable truths in a way that leaves you wondering whether to weep into your sweater sleeves or sing joyfully along as loud as your lungs will let you.