Fred Thomas: Changer

Photo: Jimmi Francoeur

The weight of memory falls across Changer, whether Fred Thomas and his characters are running or walking, daydreaming or trying hard to forget.

Fred Thomas


Label: Polyvinyl
US Release Date: 2017-01-27
UK Release Date: 2017-01-27

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!”


Director Spotlight: Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock helped to create the modern horror genre, the modern thriller, and the modern black comedy. He changed film, even as he was inventing new ways to approach it. Stay tuned through October as we present our collection of essays on the Master of Suspense.


'Psycho': The Mother of All Horrors

Psycho stands out not only for being one of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest films, it is also one of his most influential. It has been a template and source material for an almost endless succession of later horror films, making it appropriate to identify it as the mother of all horror films.

Francesc Quilis

The City Beneath: A Century of Los Angeles Graffiti (By the Book)

With discussions of characters like Leon Ray Livingston (a.k.a. "A-No. 1"), credited with consolidating the entire system of hobo communication in the 1910s, and Kathy Zuckerman, better known as the surf icon "Gidget", Susan A. Phillips' lavishly illustrated The City Beneath: A Century of Los Angeles Graffiti, excerpted here from Yale University Press, tells stories of small moments that collectively build into broad statements about power, memory, landscape, and history itself.

Susan A. Phillips

The 10 Best Indie Pop Albums of 2009

Indie pop in 2009 was about all young energy and autumnal melancholy, about the rush you feel when you first hear an exciting new band, and the bittersweet feeling you get when your favorite band calls it quits.

Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2018 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.