All Are Saved
Polyvinyl Records, 2015
Review by Kent Manthie
Ann Arbor, MI’s Fred Thomas has been around a while, a kind of cult favorite, a pretty solid fan base, who’ve come along from either some of his seven previous solo albums or from some of the bands in which he’s played, for example, another Polyvinyl band, Saturday Looks Good To Me, whose last album was reviewed here, on Independent Review sometime last year. While SLGTM had some good points to their stuff, I was actually surprised to hear (after already having listened to Thomas’s latest solo work, All Are Saved (Polyvinyl)), that he was a member of SLGTM. It threw me for a loop, I guess, at least at first, because this album, in my opinion, has a different feel from the more jangly, retro-sound of Saturday Looks Good to Me. Fred’s musical style definitely fits in with the Polyvinyl Records mode: intelligent, well-crafted, even unique artistry which defies a label or comparison to any old standards, that some newer bands evoke sometimes. As I mentioned, All Are Saved is typical of a lot of Fred’s labelmates’ efforts: the fiercely independent, outstanding music with lyrics that seem to come bubbling up from his unconscious. In a couple reviews I’ve read, while searching the internet for some more biographical information on Thomas, one particular sentence I saw in two different reviews, which I think, was actually originally taken from the description of All Are Saved on Polyvinyl’s website: https://www.polyvinylrecords.com on which, in describing the first “single”(?) (“Bad Blood”) at least described as “the first single off the album”. Since they really don’t make “singles” anymore, for instance, gone are the days of the 45 rpm records which contained singles that were samples of the full album. Jeez, I could sit here and go through a ton of stuff, back from the 80s – hell, even back to the 50s & 60s, that were on these 45s- as opposed to what’s known as the “7 inch” release, which is usually not necessarily a “single” in the music industry standard definition of the term, but could be, like, 2 or 3 songs that may or may not be on any other album, but, say, in between full-lengths, some indie artist or band may decide to tide the fan base over with a little treat: on a “7 inch” record, which is a little bigger than a 45rpm record, which is more in the neighborhood of 6 inches, also, a phenomenon which is nothing new, but goes back to the early-mid 80s, when hardcore ‘punk’ was going strong and there were a lot of DIY projects that were coming forth. Some of these DIY bands may have evolved and eventually won a place on a good indie outfit, release some albums, and in between there would sometimes be some collaboration with a fellow labelmate or just another band who happened to be friends with the other artist or band and they’d do a “split” 7 inch. on which one band would put out two songs, and on the other side, there’d be one or two songs by the other band or singer. Of course, this “split” thing is still very much a part of the indie scene: many bands who are alike, etc, will team up with another and put out, these days on CD or now, in the new digital music paradigm, split MP3 items.
Anyway, the point is, that the first song to be sprung on fans who just can’t wait until the street date of All Are Saved of April Seventh, so Polyvinyl made available “Bad Blood”, in a CD-single format, as a sneak peek, so to speak. “Bad Blood” was a good choice. I’d say it’s one of the stronger tunes on the album, full of his typical sing-speak style, wherein he chooses to just speak in a rhythmic tone to accompany the music, while on others he does put out a full-fledged singing voice, such as “Bed Bugs”, which, like “Bad Blood”, has a very good lyrical style. In other places I’ve heard it described as almost a “stream-of-conscious” flow of words which form the basis of the song; however, I think that the lyrics are not so instantly forthcoming, but rather the product of a great songwriting talent. I’m sure there was a lot of spontaneity that went into some of the songs, maybe some random thoughts that he wrote down as they came to him which were later formed into the song lyrics you hear on All Are Saved. A couple other examples of songs that are full of introspective memories and energy are “Expo ’87”, a song that seems to recount some particular event or series of events that swirl around a certain larger going-on that came to define this period, like whatever “Expo” was going on in 1987, on which Fred goes back to his speaking with the music style.
The album’s opening cut, “Every Song Sung to a Dog” sets the tone: the lyrics swing back and forth between the sing-song vocal style and the plaintive crooning, which he saves for punctuating the vibe of the song. As for the wide variety of instruments on this song, you hear some keyboard, horns, guitar and as for percussion, it’s made up of cymbals, riding the rhythm. That song goes right into the next one, “When They Built the Schools”, which starts off with an oddly recorded guitar riff, then stops and starts again with a full-on guitar playing the notes that add up the melody. “Cops Don’t Care Pt. II” is a nice, airy song that emits a kind of summertime vibe, with lyrics that describe various interactions with police, the ways that calling the cops, even when you’re the one who called and is in need of assistance, can end up being almost more of a hassle for you, who called or at least, at best, you both lose, it also goes into the typical activities/doings that one can expect when at any sort of public protest/demonstration: in this era of the passive-aggressive protest, where protesters are not willing to make a lot of noise and, as an act of protest in itself, get themselves arrested, you can’t expect much and the cops know this, so it’s so much easier to put down a protest, when one comes up that really does matter, like, for instance, protesting the Bush/Cheney administration, police brutality, revelations of the NSA spying on American citizens in sweeping ways, which the NSA leaders systematically denied was happening, despite evidence to the contrary. Those are things worth protesting for, but, unlike 48-50 years ago, when protesters were heard loudly and clearly by the government (even though they never stopped the Vietnam War, they did manage to get much of the country- or many more who were on the fence, on their side), today apathy reigns, ergo, FBI infiltration, agents provocateurs are much easier to plant in these groups, etc.
Anyway, bottom line: I like this album. Like it a lot. It goes well with many of Polyvinyl’s other bands, fits in with the eccentricity, originality and the complete freedom to do what they want, as far as complete control over the albums they want to make. So, I would say, if you’re already familiar with Fred Thomas and his work with the bands with whom he’s previously played and/or his solo albums, go out and get this one too, you won’t be sorry; and to those new to Thomas, I’d say, either take my word for it and just dive right in, pick up a copy at https://www.polyvinylrecords.com (or elsewhere, like www.amazon.com, etc.). If you go to the Polyvinyl website, you can hear the pre-release single, “Bad Blood”, which is an amazing tune, one that is, in my view, a great pick for the preview single, that it will get under your skin and entice you into checking out the full album. Enjoy!! -KM.