Posts Tagged ‘Fred Thomas’

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.


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

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.


released September 14th, 2018

There’s a line on the Fred Thomas‘ last album, 2015’s “All Are Saved”, that perfectly captures his stream-of-consciousness style: “If you see me and I seem too entertaining / I’m not singing, I’m just talking to you.” Thomas delivers his songs in a conversational cadence, jamming as much as he can into each line. His sneakily catchy tunes aren’t effortless, but it feels as if he’s chatting with you on the street  or even talking to himself in the mirror rather than singing to you from a stage.

Though Thomas has made music since the late ’90s, both solo and with his Michigan band Saturday Looks Good To Me, All Are Saved was an artistic and critical breakthrough. After its release, Thomas quit his job, got married, moved from Ann Arbor to Montreal, and began focusing on music full-time. Hence the title of his new album, Changer, and its keen reflections on big decisions and life-altering memories.

Thomas explores the emotions behind those decisions with wry perspective and unsentimental honesty. He’s interested in elusive, incomplete feelings — or, as he describes them in “Voiceover,” “All those left-behind feelings / Those student-loan feelings / Those DUI feelings / The-phone’s-about-to-die feelings.” He opens the album with, “There was something I was trying to say / But I kept losing my grip on the slippery meaning,” and throughout Changer he chases that meaning, probing his experiences in the hope of figuring them all out.



In “Brickwall,” Thomas examines how friends drift with age, waxing nostalgic for an indie-rock era — “Spending your time looking at books about New York from the 1990s / But you know it’s not the same anymore” — reflected in his jangly chords. A lament for opportunities lost in “Open Letter” includes a priceless couplet: “Love is always looming, but it’s tired of your attention / It feels like an excuse you use to rename old conventions.” He’s funny, too: In “August Rats, Young Sociopaths,” he imagines rats at the end of autumn complaining, “F***, man, can’t something be kinda good before it’s kinda gone?”

Thomas‘ rangy musings accompany music that’s impressively varied. Some tunes are riffs repeated into mantras; others are sharply crafted melodies that stay with you; some use minimalist electronics to create abstract, wordless atmospheres. Surprising touches add drama: Take the horns during the climax of “Voiceover,” the twangy accents of “2008,” or the soothing vocal interludes from singer Anna Burch in “Misremembered.”


It all serves Thomas‘ main goal: to look hard at life and explore small moments that stick around longer than you’d expect. During the album’s plaintive closer, “Mallwalkers,” he asks, “Where you’re stoned in your basement, playing games / Hanging out with your dogs / Could it ever be possible to just pause on that feeling?” The answer is probably no, but hearing Thomas capture feelings so well on Changer might convince you otherwise.

I’m humbled that a record I released in January is being even remotely remembered, let alone showing up on year-end lists. When I made Changer it felt like a disorganized folder of raw nerves, shorthand lists of experiences. I’m happy it merits any outside perspective. Thank you!

“Brickwall” is taken from Fred Thomas‘ new album, Changer, out 1/27/17.

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