Zum Donnerwetter is Thom Alan and the Harrows’ musically bright, lyrically dark second album—the bulk of which was recorded on the weekend of Ann Arbor musician, farmer, and builder Thom Alan’s 30th birthday. Part concept album, part campfire folk, and part religious poetry, Zum Donnerwetter, which is a German phrase meaning “the thunder weather,” is dedicated to Thom’s grandmother. She used the phrase a lot when he was growing up,“not a curse or an expletive”, Alan says, “but more of an exasperated ‘what the hell!’”
A belly full of whisky on a cold Michigan night
Listening to the album, I feel equally joyous and haunted, as if their harmonies were left at the foot of his bed by a ghost. And in the Harrow’s warm instrumentation, like a belly full of whiskey, I hear Thom leading his band through the darkened forest in a Michigan winter, snow crunching beneath boots stained from the fields.
“The skin, the fruit and the kiss, in the end this could mean everything,” he sings. Thom’s homemade, sensual poetry is sure to make you happy and nostalgic in turn, leading you to the window to take a deep breath of fresh air. If Thom’s prosody doesn’t hook you then his wife’s voice will. Second to the lyrics, the strongest part of the album is the two of them singing together; they do it often, and they share their choir with the album’s thematised angels and ghosts.
Thunder in the cosmos
In one of their best songs, “Samsara: Reincarnational Needs,” Thom sings, “In the cycles of birth and re-death, there’s samsara in every breath.” His songs are frequented by the poetic knowledge of experiencing the macro in the microcosm. Goethe wrote that the form of the plant can be found in the surface of the leaf, and in a similar vein, Thom’s lyrics find the entire cosmos within the human body, or in the case of Zum Donnerwetter, the beauty and complexity of the album seems to breathe inward and outward from the pulsing chime of a bell.