Posts Tagged ‘Ann Arbor’

Anna Burch and Fred Thomas take different roads to disaster on their split 7”

Over the last six years, Anna Burch and Fred Thomas have been peers on similar journeys, navigating the ever turbulent world of self-expression in the form of underfunded indie rock. This kinship has included playing in each other’s bands, collaborating on songs together, informal jams and song sketching sessions, and an honest chain of feedback on each other’s sounds.

Anna Burch and Fred Thomas have a lot in common. They’re both disarmingly witty and intuitive songwriters, both Michiganders, both intent on toying with indie-pop and bending it to their will. And ever since Thomas sent Burch’s demo to Polyvinyl Records two summers ago — attached to a note that read “This is not a drill. You need to hear this” — they’ve been label mates too. During the making of their recent albums, they’d share mixes, drafts, and ideas frequently. The two could count on each other for sincerity and to let the other know what was and wasn’t working, and it was coming from a creative equal dealing with the same questions and confusions.

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The two songs here are behind-the-scenes evidence of that kind of communication; extra material that came from those collaborative moments or an ongoing conversation that helped shape their work. Burch contributes the dreamlike but shadowy “St. Adalbert” a track she wrote and recorded a half-decade ago. In contrast to her often melodically upbeat 2018 debut LP Quit The Curse, “St. Adalbert” comes across forlorn — a song about loneliness in the middle of a crisis. “None of my friends wanna hear it / So I’ll try harder to keep it quiet,” she sings ghostlike in the first verse.

Thomas’s “Parkways” is the breezier-sounding of the two, its jangly guitars floating along on a flood of Burch’s harmonies. Like much of Thomas’s work though, the catastrophe and calamity comes through after a couple of listens. “‘Outside again like a dream without a skull to hold it in,’” he sings at the top. “That was the only thought from those dark days / To survive my slowly eroding mental landscape / The only scrap not soaked through with red wine and dread.” Anna’s harmony parts give it such a soaring feeling, even though it’s a pretty depressive song at heart.

released March 1st, 2019
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Fred Thomas had been making music nonstop for years when a seismic shift in his creative process happened in 2013. Something mystical opened up in the fall of that year and the prolific songwriter moved from his already emotionally open style into an unprecedentedly direct and vulnerable lyrical approach as well as new levels of detail-fixated production. The songs took on ​a ​new urgency​, inspired by a feeling that life was beginning afresh while at the same time a lifetime of experiences were cementing into worlds of memory.​ ​The results of that creatively eruptive time began with 2015’s critically hailed album All Are Saved, continued into the turbulent pop of 2017’s Changer and now ​float​ into Aftering, a record that feels like the final chapter of an unofficial trilogy.

Just as the two before it, Aftering was produced, mixed and assembled on location in a close collaboration between Thomas and Athens, Georgia based engineer Drew Vandenberg. All cut from the same cloth, Aftering ties the knots that connect all three records. Where both All Are Saved and Changer flitted nervously between moments of jangly power pop,​ electronic​ interludes and experimental acoustic weirdness, Aftering maps out a far more intentional arc, burning through a first act of ​speedy​, hook-h​e​a​vy guitar ​rock before taking a sharp, brutal dive into an abyss on the album’s second half.

Modeled loosely after Neil Young’s On The Beach, the nine songs here move from ​jumpy ​two minute blasts into a suite of ​four ​protracted​ and​ moody ​interconnected ​pieces​.​​ At first, ​Thomas‘ signature mesh of soaring melodies and experimental pop keeps things upbeat even when burying intense topics on songs like “Alcohol Poisoning” or in the post-election unrest of “Good Times Are Gone Again.” ​Beginning with 8-minute fever dream “House Show, Late December,” the ache​ that sits ​in the core of the ​album comes to the surface completely. From here guitars almost vanish from the instrumentation​ and​ the focus shift​s​ to tightly arranged strings, ominous synth​s​, ambient waves and ​spoken ​lyrics somewhere between poetry and desperate confession​. ​These longer songs drift in and out of each other slowly, drowning into their own lush darkness and heavy observations on anxiety, family and emotional abuse.

Connecting all three albums to an even deeper degree, Aftering finally realizes loose threads that began on earlier records, and calls on special guest​s​ from all phases of ​Thomas’​ life. Anna Burch returns to sing on ​buoyant ​single “Altar” and longtime friend and collaborator Elliot Bergman helps sculpt the ​crystalline​ vibe of album closer “What The Sermon Said.” Newer friends show up as well, with members of Bonny Doon, Common Holly, Deadbeat Beat and other artists ​Thomas connected with through years of touring showing up in supporting roles over the course of the record. Wolf Eyes member and noted memelord John Olson even contributes some fried horns and electronics.

More than anything, Aftering calmly sets down the restless questioning and turmoil of the trilogy. Instead of landing on any tidy conclusion or neatly wrapping up a thesis, the album illuminates the themes of observation and acceptance that have run throughout ​Thomas’ work for the last five years. Aftering reflects on an answerless and uncertain future, trying to make sense of it through scattered memories that flash like mental postcards. A sense of larger, universal ​dread ​refracts through these moments of searching. Ultimately, it’s not the dark times or bleakness that lingers, but a sense of connection and hope that comes from trying to communicate them as honestly as possible. Aftering, like the chapters that came just before, can feel sometimes​ painful, but there’s a clarity and beauty that’s always there as well, equally bright in even the darkest moments.

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released September 14th, 2018

2016 wasn’t good for much, but it’s been an absolutely fantastic year for indie rock (just like 2015, 2014 and 2013 were), and yet even amongst all the bands like Lvl Up and Sunflower Bean and Mitski and Big Thief and the Hotelier and Pity Sex going around I koved this tiny record by this Ann Arbor, Michigan band, and its pretty zippy hey-whatever guitar tunes  all nine of them in just 18 minutes. Singer-guitarist Fred Thomas was in the good Sixties-garage pop band Saturday Looks Good to Me. This is garage-y too but looser, with a vibe and a warmly small sound like it was recorded at the bottom of Ira Kaplan’s sweater drawer. They rock out a little on “8AM,” hit reedy harmonies on “Coke Floats” and bask in “the regular mundane anxiety” of whatever their life is like on “Ready for the Break.” Bassist-singer Anna Burch sings lead on the breakout drive-time bomb-drop of a focus track “Supermarket Scene,” where the guitars ring like tiny cathedral bells and she imagines the kind of meet-cute that takes years to unfold: “Maybe when we’re older/Maybe when we both get paid/We can find a place that feels like home.” . Anna Burch: Guitar & Vocals , Erin Davis: Bass Guitar ,Miles Haney: Drums ,Fred Thomas: Guitar & Vocals

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Pity Sex’s co-leader, vocalist, and guitarist Britty Drake announced she would be leaving the Michigan alt-emo punk band in August, just a handful of months after the release of their ace sophomore album White Hot Moon. Incredible follow up to Feast of Love. Polishing their already awesome sound is one of the things Pity Sex does really well on this album is play between the differences of its male (Brennan Greaves) and female vocalists both in the sounds they produce and how they shape the story told in the song. On their excellent debut Feast of Love, Drake’s quiet vocals pushed through fuzzed out guitars and emo tropes of heartache and longing. She often felt central to the song’s story. The huge, thick guitar riffs fill your brain and seem like a wall; a wall the band tears down when they open up their sound and let you in closer. The highlight is “Plum” for me; the lyrics so sad but heartbreakingly beautiful when sung by Britty Drake.

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On White Hot Moon, her vocals told a bit more of a defiant story, like on the track “Burden You.” The demureness of her voice with gritty riffs is more triumphant but slightly, and smugly, a little on the apathetic side. White Hot Moon still bears the imprints of Feasts of Love’s more feelings centric themes paired with sharp, sometimes booming riffs. What will be of the band after Drake’s departure is unknown. But before she left, Drake left a sweet and bold mark on Pity Sex.

Pity Sex – Feast Of Love
release April 20th
Ann Arbor’s Pity Sex formed in 2011 their debut album, ‘Feast Of Love’. On it, they marry the reverb-drenched tactics of My Bloody Valentine and the dynamic hooks of the Pixies.

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Failed Flowers

Fred Thomas knows what it means to be prolific. The Michigan singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist’s best-known band, Saturday Looks Good to Me, has spoiled its following with more than 20 singles and full-length releases (plus a smattering of cassettes and homemade CD-Rs) since its inception in 1999. Following a hiatus that began in 2008 (the group briefly reunited in 2012; its future is anyone’s guess), Thomas threw himself into various other projects, including the experimental duo City Center and the record label Life Like.

By comparison, Thomas’s newest endeavor, Failed Flowers, is an exceedingly—and, it transpires, a deliberately—casual affair. The foursome drew immediate attention in the summer of 2014 for the self-explanatory Demo, a cassette of eight rough-and-ready pop songs (only two of which breach the two-minute mark) whose outward spontaneity betrays the fact that much of it was recorded when no one other than Thomas knew the tape was rolling. Shortly after its release, Thomas said that he envisioned Failed Flowers’ follow-up being an album of 20 songs that “you can get lost in,” in the overstuffed mold of Guided by Voices.

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Instead, singer-guitarist Autumn Wetli left the band, Thomas returned from Ann Arbor to his adopted home of Montreal (where his wife attends university), and Failed Flowers dropped out of sight until a few weeks ago, when a new, self-titled work slipped out with intentionally little fanfare on Minneapolis’s 25 Diamonds label.

Contrary to the extended opus Thomas originally intended, Failed Flowers closely follows the model set forth by Demo: a mere nine tracks that come and go in little more than 18 minutes. But it does represent a progression of sorts—and not only in that it sees the quartet (rounded out by bassist Erin Davis, drummer Miles Haney, and Wetli’s successor, Anna Burch) graduating from cassette to “semi-psychedelic,” one-sided purple vinyl. Despite still being models of brevity and simplicity, these songs are ever-so-slightly richer, more melodic, more evocative of the raw yet subtly sophisticated indie-pop of New Zealand cult label Flying Nun and its American progeny.

Released by our amazing Minneapolis friends 25 Diamonds and limited to 400 copies, this is the vinyl debut for Failed Flowers. These nine songs pressed on purple semi-psychedelic vinyl on a one-sided LP. Includes lyric insert. We have a very limited amount of the pressing for sale, available here and at all of our shows, but when they run out, they are gone. Much thanks to Ian and all at 25 Diamonds for making this happen!!!

Failed Flowers are

Anna Burch: Guitar & Vocals
Erin Davis: Bass Guitar
Miles Haney: Drums
Fred Thomas: Guitar & Vocals