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

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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.”

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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.

Will he is

Greetings from scenic Ypsilanti Township! I’m the “other” William, but you can go ahead and call me Will. I’m a nearly 30-year resident of the Ypsi-Arbor environs, having moved here after college to work at the Ann Arbor News.
Do you remember newspapers? If so, this blog is probably going to be right up your street. We hope so, anyway. In fact, us “Two Williams” met and became friends when we both worked at The News and realized we had shared interests in music, basketball and beer. Mostly beer. But, as is so often the case, time, job changes, family, and an ever-diminishing capacity for beer intervened and our interactions dwindled to the occasional happenstance encounter somewhere around town.
twoWills-willSo Iwas as surprised as I was pleased when Bill contacted me recently — and by recently I mean more than a year ago — to suggest we collaborate on this blog as a way not only to fill the growing void in entertainment and cultural reporting around Ann Arbor, but also to rekindle the friendship that life’s other demands had sidetracked so many years earlier.
And now many moons have passed … but we’re ready to unveil the fruits of Bill’s grand vision and my own meager efforts. Look for news about music — local and beyond — food, iconic Ann Arbor characters and some fun (and hopefully funny) other adventures in journalistic whimsy.
Let us know what you think, and by all means, feel free to hip us to stories, people, bands and/or happenings you think should find a place on these pages. We have some ideas of our own, but we really want this to be a collaborative effort between us and you.
Meanwhile, at the risk of self-aggrandizement, here’s just a little more about me: In 2001, after nearly a decade and a half as a newspaper reporter (in a moment of totally accidental prescience) I made an abrupt career change and opened a record store in Ypsilanti. Maybe you remember Rubber Soul Records; but probably you don’t. I barely do. For the last decade, I’ve worked in public relations, specializing in media monitoring and measurement for automotive-industry clients.
I used to play drums with local stalwarts, Corndaddy, and led my own “garage-country” outfit, The Ypsitucky Colonels for many years after that.
Most of my gigs nowadays occur on the back deck with friends or in my wife’s kindergarten class. And, just to show how time marches on, I no longer drink beer. But if you happen to see me walking out of a marijuana dispensary, rest assured it’s strictly for medicinal purposes …
Welcome to the2Willams. We hope you like it here!