Release Date: May 26, 2009
Record label: Type
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Electronic
Fred Thomas is one of the indie world's most prolific and multifaceted musicians, but with City Center, he shows that he still has the ability to surprise his listeners. With layers of electronic textures, percussion, found sounds, and ethereal reverb, City Center's self-titled debut album is easily the most abstract music Thomas has released under any moniker. Though the more experimental moments on Saturday Looks Good to Me's Cold Colors EP might have foreshadowed City Center's sound, Thomas and partner Ryan Howard take this approach to a beautiful extreme here, crafting tracks that range from "Summer School" and "Killer Whale"'s cloudy pop to whispery, atmospheric pieces, such as the nine-minute "Cloud Center," that could be called soundscapes without flinching.
Though you may not have heard of him, Fred Thomas has an oeuvre that could fill up the room. He’s been compared to everybody from Stephen Merritt to Jeff Magnum to Ariel Pink in his songwriting capabilities. As the showrunner behind Saturday Looks Good to Me, he conducted a vast and magnanimous library of lo-fi indie powerpop. As an occasional member of His Name Is Alive, he saw the band move from its ethereal origins into expansive territories encompassing free jazz, country, surf, and other miscellaneous divergences.
Last year, Grouper released Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, a record that was not only a personal breakthrough for Liz Harris, but arguably for the Type label as a whole-- an LP so insidiously ingratiating that it just had to be pop at its core, right? So what now that Fred Thomas, he of the erstwhile retro-pop outfit Saturday Looks Good to Me, is now recording as part of City Center on the same imprint? City Center doesn't necessarily come off like a true pop record, but where Grouper made a point of sounding fully submerged, City Center never go so far that they can't come up for air. Somewhere between early Paw Tracks' folk abstractions and the recent outpouring of lo-fi dream beat, most of City Center is content to drift in and out of its aqueous surroundings like a buoy. The major chords and ringing ambience of "Killer Whale" make for a welcoming entrance point, though Thomas' vocals sound like they've been suspended in some kind of gelatin.
With the latest Animal Collective collector fetish item creating an eBay frenzy reserved for things like the Google IPO, it’s safe to say that there’s a market for their particular brand. And as supposedly “outsider pop” becomes the bread and butter of art-school insiders, whole packs of copy cats have emerged to no fanfare. Now, Fred Thomas of Saturday Looks Good to Me fame has tossed his hat into the hype ring with City Center.