I’ve written about a thousand album reviews in the last 10 years and very few of them left me speechless. Fred Thomas, a Michigan musical mainstay all too familiar to Arbor/Ypsi crowds (Saturday Looks Good To Me, Swimsuit, City Center), has released his eighth proper solo album (All Are Saved, Polyvinyl), and I don’t know where to begin.
Perhaps I’m just driving myself crazy over dissecting every tone, timbre and sonic element he’s mingling together here, some crowded jungle of audionic curiae thrumming with organic harmony (and a few bits of cathartic disharmony). Be it a droning synth under the shush of a dragging cymbal, or the understated mellow murmur of a guitar strumming way down in the mix beneath the curious chirping sample flitted through the aesthetically purposeful fog of tape hiss. Or the brass? The haunting off-mic vocal howls?
Or should I zero in on just his voice (his multi-tracked voices, rather)? Beautifully obscured by delay and distortion like vibrant turquoise water color paintings smooshed up against a frosted glass pane, hitting a high creaky register when he really gets into it, and a low and captivating whoosh of anxious ache varyingly spattered in a poet’s speak-sing style or crooned in a hummy sort of splay.
There are no distinct edges to anything, no crisp snap of one sound against the next. It all bleeds and merges. This is an album that glows brighter when listening through headphones. There is no beat to dance to and no chorus can be (easily) memorized and yet it consistently captivates. There is plenty of caustic noise curtained into an aural ambiance and nervous rancor wrung from the calmly seethed vocals to his most emotive vocals. It can be some techno-tribal cacophony fitfully clicking its rhythms under a climbing guitar riff—all gently divebombed by a whirring synthesizer and the baroque charms of a brass section.
This album defies categorization. You can’t sit down to write a review about it. You can only warn your fellow travelers who are about to traverse the same sonic trails from whence you’ve just returned that they’re going to need way more than boots, you might need some rope, a machete maybe—and a heart that’s twice as open as your mind. The high school journal, the tour diary, the old tapes on his shelf and the out of tune instruments in his attic and everything he’s been thinking lately and all of those muddled-together music memories, all of it crashing and tumbling together in a contemplative tornado that blows both hot and cold, curdled and content to finally let loose these expressions, not overtly autobiographical but more like actualized pronouncements from the crinkled pages of a dream log.
Fred Thomas’ All Are Saved is available via Polynvinyl Records.
Fred Thomas – “Bad Blood” (from All Are Saved)