Fred Thomas – Changer

I’m a little late to the game on Fred Thomas – not only on this January 2017 release, but also his 37 album career. That’s an exaggeration, but not by much – Changer is Thomas’s eighth solo outing by my count. Then there are his seven titles co-fronting Saturday Looks Good to Me, the omnipresent early 2000s outfit that despite Thomas’s punk roots were too twee even for my tastes.

“I’ve traded in any chance at stability for this community of people who know what Black Flag is, or whatever,” Thomas imagines himself railing at a group of abusive street punks in the brilliant “Open Letter to Forever,” and he sells it as pretty damn autobiographical. Since 2015’s All Are Saved, Thomas has gotten married and followed his grad student wife to Montreal, where he’s continued his inveterate home taping and collaborating. His sound has also kinda sorta become more approachable – perhaps stability is looking a bit more appealing.

Thomas did a brief but thrilling set at The EARL this spring opening for Tyvek – one of a passel of bands from his native Michigan with which he’s been affiliated. That performance left me thinking Billy Bragg, given his solo electric guitar renditions of witty, word-stuffed songs. I was also reminded of lesser known scrappy winners like Defiance, Ohio and John K. Samson of Weakerthans “fame.” A similar troubadour vibe – minus the politics – permeates much of Changer.

Thomas detours into low-key studio excursions on the electronica-laced title track and the woozy orchestral cacophony of “There Is No Need to Participate,” which hints at his past role as longtime sideman for willfully enigmatic fellow Michiganders His Name Is Alive. While these are welcome palette cleansers, it’s the guitar-driven odes to rudderless adulthood like “Misremembered” and the hooky “Reactionary” that carry the day.

On the more pensive All Are Saved Thomas began to peel back some of the lo-fi grot. He’s now added more of a spark to the mix as well – his vocal phrasings on “Voiceover” remind me of Perfect Pussy, of all things. Before I declare Changer 2017’s most overlooked album, let’s take a shot at mooting that backhanded compliment.

Fred Thomas