Fred Thomas's 2015 album All Are Saved hit me like a bolt out of the blue, and ended up #3 on my list of favourite albums from that year. (I still play standouts 'When They Built The Schools' and 'Bad Blood' on a regular basis.) When I heard that follow-up Changer was on the way, I was predictably excited. Late last year, Polyvinyl previewed the album with four great advance tracks, two of which – 'Voiceover' and 'Mallwalkers' – knocked me sideways. Now Changer has landed, it's enchanted me in a similar way to its predecessor.
Although All Are Saved is Changer's Polyvinyl predecessor, it's worth noting that Thomas also released an album of instrumental electronic sketches in the interim via Bandcamp. Minim comprises 30 one-minute vignettes that point in so many interesting directions, the mind boggles (an early version of Changer's '2008' has a home there, plus Changer's title track is basically Minim's 'A Park For People'). Thomas seems to thrive in the overlapping zone of a Venn diagram that has loose electronic jams as one circle and strummy indie-rock as the other. (Check out his band Hydropark if you like Krautrock-influenced instrumental rock.) And let's not forget Thomas's words, which spill over everything like an upturned cup of coffee.
The words are the first thing you notice on urgent opener 'Misremembered' – it's so crammed full of them you feel like you're walking in on songwriting in progress. "There was something I was trying to say," is repeated over insistent guitars, emphasising his tendency towards open-ended pronouncements; there's the feeling that a Fred Thomas album is just a snapshot of an ongoing flow of music and words that the listener has the privilege of sampling. (Indeed, Changer was originally submitted to Polyvinyl as an hour-long album before being edited down to these 34 minutes.)
Thomas crams a lot of great songs into Changer, interspersed with instrumental stretches that allow the album to breathe amid his tumble of words. 'Reactionary' is an early languid detour; 'August Rats, Young Sociopaths' is an absolute peach. The fact it all ends with 'Mallwalkers' is no coincidence – it's easily one of his finest songs to date, crammed full of hooks and lyrical gems; a culmination of a lot of the best aspects of the album. While not quite as magical as All Are Saved, Changer still comes highly recommended.
[Changer is released today on Polyvinyl.]