These Curious Thoughts
A Decade in the Shadows
Viaduct Records, 2015
Review by Kent Manthie
Jim Radford and Sean Dunlop are back. Their two-man outfit, These Curious Thoughts, has recently come out with A Decade in the Shadows, a follow-up to 2014’s Inventing Dr. Sutherland and his Traveling Hospital.
For those who need a recap (or an intro) to Jim and Sean, Jim Radford lives in London and writes the lyrics, while Sean Dunlop resides stateside, in Detroit, where he comes up with the musical chops. Then, the two communicate via email, often, sending each other their contributions to whatever they happen to be working on.
Obviously, they’re method seems to be working out well, since they’ve just released their seventh CD for Viaduct Records as These Curious Thoughts. But they have a history going back to 2004, when Sean and Jim starting writing and recording what amounted to 100s of songs and “nearly 10 studio albums” (from their Viaduct Records website page; http://www.viaductrecords.com/these-curious-thoughts.html).
But as These Curious Thoughts, A Decade in the Shadows marks their seventh Viaduct Records release. The first few songs have a mellow touch to them; almost a bit of folk or balladeering. But as the album goes on, the tempo gets a little funkier, more complex, even “Beatle-esque”, which is to say, it has a panoply of instrumentation that all fit together as a happy whole. There are horns, piano, guitar, as well as various and sundry extras. I think it’s “Souls” where the action starts. That isn’t to say the first three tunes aren’t worth listening to. Like most albums, I like to listen to them in their entirety.
The way I’d describe this would be to say that it builds up, from a modest, almost melancholy folk sound and then they build it up with a variety of whimsical, music that ranges from the R.E.M.-with-a-horn-section sound of “Souls” back to the folky ballad of “My Lizard Preacher” and on to the idiosyncratic “Small Town Hero”.
To tell the truth, though, a comparison to R.E.M. is a rather apt way to describe much of the album. Of course, to say they were just trying to sound like R.E.M. would be totally wrong. TCT do their own thing and while I dig R.E.M., I only like the R.E.M. records they did on I.R.S. Records (Murmur, Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, Life’s Rich Pageant and Document (#5). Their debut for soul-killer, Warner Bros. Records, Green was a decent record. I must say, that Green is a good album, from start to finish, but all the albums they made after that just haven’t stood the test of time that they’re first six albums did. In fact, I couldn’t tell you the names of any R.E.M. songs after their smash, Out of Time and the popular Automatic for the People, whose songs may be memorable and still played on pop music radio stations, but they just don’t measure up to the brilliance of an album like Reckoning or their debut, Murmur, along with Fables of the Reconstruction, they’re my favorite R.E.M. albums: every song on each album is a winner!
But, back to These Curious Thoughts. They’re versatility ensures that they aren’t going to be going the way of R.E.M. or anyone else but their way. With Dunlop’s great guitar work and Jim’s mellow vibe vocals, the two make for a great team. Besides those two basics, they also add lots of other “bells and whistles” to the mix, which, together is a great recipe for musical oratorios.
Visit Viaduct and read more about the duo as well as get a chance to purchase any of their work. -KM.