In our ears: Fred Thomas’ “Sink Like a Symphony”

Sink Like a Symphony

Records are like old friends. The covers, the liner notes, the labels … each of these are windows into a record’s personality, revealing quirks and clues about whether you and it are going to be compatible over the long term.

Or maybe I’m just weird. Probably I’m just weird.

Either way, one of the things we hope to do here on The2Williams is discuss the recordings that catch our ears in the hopes that they’ll, perhaps, catch yours, too.

Which brings us back to old friends.

Back in 2002 at the old Rubber Soul record shop in Ypsilanti, we started listening to a new, local band called Saturday Looks Good to Me. Inspired by Motown and girl groups, SLGTM had a buoyant, reverby-y sound that was simply made for halcyon, summer days.

Over time, the band outgrew “local act” status, embarking on countless national and European tours and, in spite of near-constant personnel changes, releasing records right up until a few years ago.

When SLGTM’s main man Fred Thomas released his first solo record, “Sink Like a Symphony,” in 2006, I expected it to follow along the lines of SLGTM’s jangly, upbeat vibe. So I was pretty surprised when I dropped the needle on a silver – yes silver! – LP that was quiet, confessional and somewhat dark, mixing elements of folk, rock and experimental sound manipulation into a gorgeous, lo-fi collage of words and sounds.

I fell in love with it immediately and, now 10 years later, it remains my favorite record of the past decade. What’s more, the tune “Holland Tunnel” has clawed its way into that theoretical short list of my favorite songs … ever. That’s high cotton amid tunes like Bob Dylan’s “Up To Me,” NRBQ’s “Boys in the City” and Question Mark and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears.”

Fred Thomas

In the meantime, Fred has become a dear friend and I was deeply honored when he invited me to be part of a one-off band to back him up at last year’s Mittenfest.Fred continues to make amazing, slightly under-the-radar music ranging from his own solo stuff to the electro-pop soundscapes of more-recent projects like Hydro Park. Fred has that knack that allows him to make even the most “out there” sonic soundscapes accessible to any ears.

He’s also a great guy and an unfailing supporter of everyone around him who’s pursuing any sort of artistic endeavor. He’s always there with an encouraging word, or even to engineer a session for an aspiring artist.

Fred and his wife, Emily, now live in Montreal, although they’re home for the summer, offering us the opportunity to catch him in any number of live shows in any number of incarnations. And no matter where he resides, Fred’s a local hero, right up there with the Osterbergs, Ashetons, Morgans and Segers, who preceded him. And even if he were to never create another note of music – unthinkable for such a restlessly creative artistic soul – he’s created a body of work that will doubtless endure any test of time.

Who knows what my favorite record of the next 10 years will be? But I wouldn’t lay odds against some yet-to-be-imagined Fred Thomas project topping that list, too.

You can listen to “Sink Like a Symphony” for free. But better yet, you can buy it directly from Fred’s label – the major indie Polyvinyl – for just $5.

You won’t spend a better five clams all summer … not even on ice cream.

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