"...Nothing Makes The Same Space For Expression..." - Fred Thomas

I'd tell you what a Fred Thomas record sounds like, if I could... but I can't.

I can only tell you how each Fred Thomas record sounds... case by case.

And, for a synopsis that extensive, we'd be here all day.

The SE-Michigan based singer/songwriter and sound-manipulator has a crowded résumé. He's played with several other music projects, chief among them being his post as the sustaining agent of the celebrated chamber-pop ensemble Saturday Looks Good To Me. While this month's impressionistic twee-noise masterpiece All Are Saved is another in a line of several solo-recordings released under his own name, it's his first big breakthrough with a major label other than his own, (Polyvinyl).

"It's hard for me to know what to say about various projects, because I'm just a part of all the bands I'm in, collaborating with others," said Thomas. "It's like saying: '...so, these various parties you attended over the last few months, what did they mean to you?' I don't know! Hah! (I'm) just jamming with some friends and they're all different. Nothing makes the same space for expression, which is why everyone I play with also plays in a bunch of different projects and usually solo, as well."

If you hear a couple of his solo songs and try to pin him as an esoteric lo-fi folkster, than the next couple songs will make you stop and say: 'oh no... wait, he's actually some avant-garde sound collagist...' Still, no! Because he can suddenly go all surfy-indie-rock on you and dash in some warm major keys and earworm melodies. And so you try to re-categorize him all over again. Good luck.

All Are Saved arcs and twinges a furrowed path across the whole emotional spectrum, apathy to empathy, from an anxious fretting to a steadfast fuck-all. His lyrics, either spoken or incanted, come fast and fervent, the result of putting pen to page at a point in life when one's head is throbbing, not just with thoughts, but with regrets and grudges as well as nostalgia and affections.

"When teenagers write their first songs, they have experienced so much, so it's usually some dour lament of broken hearts or a straightforward reflection on what's in their immediate view," says Thomas. "By the time you're in your late '30s, if you're me, you're carrying every moment you've ever gathered and life itself is a cloud of complicated emotions and conflicting experiences with no answer and no illusions of being right or wrong about things. In this way, All Are Saved is a straightforward reflection of what was in my immediate view, too."

These minimalist songs, gorgeous and caustic and fitful as they are, as dreams can often feel when we try to recall them in the first minutes of the morning, are sung from the a very sincere and straightforward standpoint for Thomas, the cloistered creator, working on music alone while the weekender's world whiles itself away, poetically capturing "the din of celebration / heard through basement walls..."

With previous albums and other projects, like City Center, Thomas has displayed an inclination towards an artful obfuscation of his songs, instrumentally and vocally, through various means, be it multi-tracked dissonance or disorienting polyharmonies, sheens of reverb or decorous fuzz, or even dropping the downbeat as it all falls away into detached drones.

All Are Saved's key distinction is its crisp intonation. The vocals are more spoken-word than ever and also clearer in the audio mixing, decipherable in delivery, free of any of his usual magical-murk or clouds of ambient noise.

"There was a decided switch in vocal presentation on this album, for sure," says Thomas. "More of the spoken, lyric-heavy vocals seem to work better for these songs, but they were also written in a time when I was going back to favorite records of mine and seeing that kind of delivery coming up a lot. Emo bands I used to listen to a lot like The Van Pelt or some Joan of Arc stuff volleyed between somewhat melodic-speaking and wavery-singing, and the entire BARR catalog is mostly just talking... so, I took from that a lot."

Don't expect All Are Saved to be the typical full-on diary entry autobiography, Thomas clarified. There wasn't any catharsis or revelations gained for him in that time-honored singer-songwriterly way. More than anything, he wanted to say more with these songs, to just be more direct than he's usually been. The album was born from a time when a lot of his thoughts were intersecting, spanning a long stretch of his own memories.

"It was important for me to work through a lot of the feelings that gave rise to those songs by the actual process of making the songs," explains Thomas. "But, at the end, when it was done and being sent out to labels for consideration, it felt more like something that I'd simultaneously been put through and gotten over. A really one of a kind experience, for sure, but not a 'what I learned' kinda thing."

The result, for the listener, is like a roller-coaster ride through Thomas' unconscious, with pages of photo-albums spilling into your cart framing scenes and encounters that could likely seem all too familiar, even if you've never been to Ypsilanti, Michigan. All Are Saved's vocalized blur of vivid montages is only augmented by the music's blend of fragile timbres, explosive crescendos and curtains of droning fuzz.

'Bad Blood', the lead single, sets a walking tempo under tempestuous synthesizers that roil under the weary narrator's percussive poetry.

"(Bad Blood) isn't about anyone I've dated, let alone a specific subject. It would be easy to assume it's a jilted ex-lover song, but listening closely to the lyrics should reveal that this is a song about people who hate each other without actually knowing each other. (It's) more angry for the threat that's represented than by any actual offence."

'Bad Blood', if anything, says Thomas, is about "...the people who make you feel alone or stupid where you once felt safe... the person that shows up again and again in everyone's life, that one individual that all your friends seem to adore and you can't stand."

Even Thomas' most minimal recordings still have so much going on, and the final mixes of All Are Saved are no different. Thomas offers the album's second single, 'Cops Don't Care Pt. II', as a prime example. "It seems like it's just guitar and vocals, but it's actually eight tracks of guitars run through various amps, layers of vocals and hidden synth tracks, all blurring into a huge-sounding but compact little song."

Thomas said he really got into the sounds of older synthesizers following his last solo album, 2012's Kuma. That led All Are Saved to be rather "synth-heavy." He obtained a few synthesizers over the last couple years and "got lost in the endless catalog of weird sounds they offer."

This album came together over a two year period, recorded and mixed with two other producers, first in Detroit with Chris Koltay (Deerhunter) and then down in Athens with Drew Vandenberg (of Montreal).

"It was pieced together from so many hundreds of scraps. "It was not a swift or particularly well-constructed affair, but more of a patchwork. I'm so happy and grateful that the record is out and that people are getting a chance to hear it. I'm also amazed at how many people have related to it, in all its ugliness, personal sentiments and unlikely approaches to what pop music can be. People are more connected, really, than they seem. These encouraging reactions have fuelled me to take even more risks and not be scared, but all the more excited to say what's embarrassing, weird or vulnerable in the future with my music."

All Are Saved album release show is May 6 at The UFO Factory in Detroit, featuring Anna Burch, Haunted and J. Fernandez.