The Thermals: Personal Life (Kill Rock Stars)

The Thermals race through songs like Adderall-aided students: focused, alert and precise in every note.

The Portland, Ore., trio's fifth album is once again full of punk-rock intensity and catchy pop songcraft, but the heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics are turned inward, dealing with love and heartbreak instead of the heated political screeds that characterized the band's ascendancy.

The record's best songs—"I'm Gonna Change Your Life," "I Don't Believe You," "Power Lies," "Your Love Is So Strong" and "You Changed My Life"—provide the sort of thrilling head rush that has turned kids toward punk rock for decades now. But the album falters when it slows down, as guitarist and singer Hutch Harris drops the tempo to match the lyrical content on songs like "Only for You" and "Alone, a Fool."

Produced by Chris Walla (of Death Cab for Cutie), Personal Life roots around in the gutters of lost love and regrets. "Why do I hold in my chest every memory I mean to forget?" Harris sings in "Power Lies," with an aching voice that makes it clear the question is worth asking no matter whether it's ever answered. And that's the rub when people turn to the questions of lost love—there aren't really any answers that can be separated from the mistakes, lies, deceptions, lost moments and shaky emotions that fostered the whole mess in the first place.