The energy is immediately different on Fred Thomas’ Changer than on his last album, 2015’s All Are Saved. For that matter, the energy feels different than any album of his that I can think of—dating back to the turn of the century, when from Ann Arbor, Michigan he started releasing lively, historically aware pop music as Saturday Looks Good to Me, and was dubbed an indie pop Phil Spector by those in the know.
Now, he lives in Canada. Changer projects a mix of restlessness and nostalgia. At one point on All Are Saved, he asked the musical question, “How you wanna live? Can you conceive of a living wage?” That question of how we live—especially, how creative and free-spirited folks live in a world that privileges money, and capitalistic systems—is at the center of Changer. It’s not asked in a single way, more like part of the fabric as the songs ramble from one experience or thought to another, and onward.
The first song is called “Misremembered”; memories drive so much of this music. But memories are inherently incomplete, strange and unforgiving. The rambling guitar pop of the song emulates that. “We all navigate the having of bodies and histories,” he sings, and the musical manifestation of that navigation is part of what Changer resembles. And the puzzle—how do these memories fit with our immediate worries? Often Thomas sings in a wordy, breathless style like memories and their implications are rushing through him faster than he can keep up with. Other times everything swoons, a beautiful daydream. Towards the end of “Misremembered”, we’re in a bar, and it’s “last call again”, and everything around us stops; freeze-frame.
Thomas again seems like an endless source of great melodies. And he creates music that wears its awareness of space and time on its surface. The sound of Changer is many things at once that are all part of the same—intimate, bittersweet, drifting, unable ever completely to calm down even when meditating on a feeling.
Stupid jobs, un-ideal living conditions, attractive people who excite and then disappear, the sense that life is in a state of paralysis… this is the setting for Changer. “August Rats, Young Sociopaths” ruminates on a time period—“another garbage year”—in a poetic way. “Brick Wall” cranks a spunky anthem out of frustration. “Open Letter to Forever” resembles an off-the-cuff internal monologue about related feelings of anxiety. The first single “Voiceover” has a similar spoken-sung delivery at first but gets more animated and anxious, voicing dreams that release worries collected over the years, with a hope behind them to be like everybody else (impossible).
On some songs, Thomas crams in thoughts, feelings and remembered scenes. Overall, though, there’s as much of a focus on capturing a daydream feeling. What start out as little ambient segues give way by the album’s end for a few full instrumental pieces that still wear Changer’s themes in small ways—for example, a gorgeous number called “Infuriated”.
The album ends with a song named after “Mallwalkers”, a symbol of a simple routine of the type that our tortured protagonist continually longs for an can never achieve. But if he could, would he be satisfied? And wouldn’t he keep being chased by the specter of memory, the sort of unsettled memories that never will die? As he sings earlier in the album, “Oh the crushing weight of an exceptional memory!”