Fred Thomas

Aftering

Polyvinyl

Sep 12, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


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Fred Thomas is the kind of storyteller that you seem to meet through his music. For many listeners who hadn't seen the 15-year veteran freewheeling across the northeast, Polyvinyl introduced us to the songwriter and his gushing monologues. His last album, 2017's Changer, stamped in the impression of an affable outsider, a self-effacing journeyman that fellow outcasts could swap notes with. Yet, while Thomas has always spared no detail about how he's been slighted in the past, Aftering unravels a weather-beaten tapestry of distress and pain. As time crawls on in the present, we follow our protagonist through a lived-in scrapbookand when Thomas digs into old wounds, we feel our own scabs ripped out.

Like a clever indie film, Aftering draws power from a deliberate entropy. Nothing else could open the album except the panoramic "Ridiculous Landscapes," where we meditate with Thomas on his chosen exile from the straight world. We carry that thought as Aftering splits into two halves. There's the jangly A-side, four bittersweet anthems laced with hard lessons and regrets. "You can't feel the damage until after it happens," notes Thomas on the upbeat "Altar"and indeed, that's where the blizzard sets in.

When we descend into "House Show, Late December," the crimson mist of the past sets in. "Everything you say there's nothing wrong with, there's something wrong with," Thomas insists, as whirls of noise drown him out. Throughout the windswept second half, the steady march of time clashes against a disturbing stasis, where washes of loops and synths magnify the festering wounds often concealed under the skin.

Do those scars ever heal? Thomas can't answer that, which makes Aftering only resonate more in this writer's mind. As his parents sip coffee in silent resignation after the Basinski-like ghost symphony of album closer "What the Sermon Said," we're reminded that society's rejects might never shake the burden of failureeven when, in Thomas' case, they can sculpt their own beautiful path away from the norm. (www.fredthomasmusic.com)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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