Robert Earl Thomas (Record Release)
Lina Tullgren, Anna Fox Rochinski
140 Wilson Ave
Brooklyn, NY, 11237
This event is 21 and over
Robert Earl Thomas
There are a million songs dressed in white t-shirts and American denim, songs that drift through open spaces in some busted sedan, over lost highways that become tributaries to eventual static, crawling traffic and stifling density. There are a million more songs about being wild and green in the cities and outside them: a song about love for every person on this earth. Another Age, the debut album from Robert Earl Thomas, avoids inhabiting these clichés even as it embraces their personal influence, distilling plucky observations and reveries into something both universal and specific. This is an album about small moments with big emotional footprints, told humbly and honestly.
It’s a debut that plays the part without succumbing to it, more pastel romantic comedy than sepia historic drama. Thomas addresses with uncommon gentleness his own pet preoccupations with iconic imagery and tones: there are stylistic nods to Springsteen and Dire Straits, Arthur Russell’s more folk-leaning output, the various collaborations of Tom Petty & Jeff Lynne. But Thomas seems intent on conveying his specific take on these things over emulating them; you get the impression that he’s just as inspired by karaoke renditions of “I’m On Fire” or “Romeo and Juliet” as he is by the originals. As a narrator, he steers a road song away from jaded indifference, and his self-aware ballads are concerned not with broken hearts (or breaking them) but with city-induced anxiety, complex and unfamiliar love, and soft ruminations on getting older.
Thomas is not new to making records, and Another Age is actually years in the works. A founding member of Brooklyn-based indie outfit Widowspeak, he’s previously lent his talents as a lead guitarist to that band as well as the experimental pop group Vensaire. He began writing and home-recording songs two years ago, gradually and purposefully in moments of solitude between tours, between stints working in a Seattle woodshop and at a hotel in the Catskills, and during weeks couch-surfing back and forth across Brooklyn. For Another Age, Thomas combined these intricately layered demos with tracks from a two-week studio session in the winter of 2016 at Marcata Recording in New Paltz, NY with producer Kevin McMahon (Swans, Real Estate, Widowspeak).
Sonically, the album is buoyant throughout, even at its most emotive. There’s an inherent sense of approachability to his melodies and, as a frontman, Thomas is sincere and affable. He coaxes the listener in with idiosyncratic vulnerability, like a lounge singer raised on AM radio and Elliott Smith singing bedroom arena rock without the bravado, easy-listening with a little more at stake. His voice is distinctive, confident even as it wavers and slides through lyrics, lending a poignant sensitivity to his otherwise assertive guitar and synth compositions. Thomas excels in the sort of wandering, hypnotic codas that instantly recall a feeling of aloneness, a feeling of sequestering oneself to a closet-sized bedroom even as the city keeps moving around you.
And the stories he tells are full of intimate moments and observations: a walk home from a lover’s apartment, a long night drive back upstate, a quiet Wednesday morning existential crisis. Musings as to the significance of a Winona Ryder portrait on the wall of a stranger’s bedroom. The sense of discovery that comes with being young in a city with a new person, and the sense of loss when that novelty is gone. Another Age is indoor music at its most expansive, rock and roll held at arm’s length.
Lina Tullgren, the latest Captured Tracks' signee, is a Maine born songwriter with an eye and an ear for darkness. And the light. Sometimes it's quiet, but sometimes it's loud. When you grow up in the trenches of classical music and then, down the line, you learn about traditional fiddle music and old work songs, you can get burnt out on everything after a while. So, then you buy an electric guitar and start to write songs. If you aren't trying to be anything or anyone in particular; the songs that result are in their own way, raw, sincere and unique.
This signing sees a re-release of Lina's cassette Wishlist, an EP that was recorded in October 2015 with childhood musical partner, Ty Ueda. Two years after Lina wrote its opening track, a slow burner rock ballad, "Watchdog," the pair got together and recorded five tracks over the course of a few days on Ty's Tascam 388 at his house in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. They make a good team: with Ty being a manic perfectionist and Lina something like the opposite of a perfectionist. Because fuck being perfect. They can agree on a love of tape wobble and the integrity of songs that are, at a glance, strangely structured and honest. They're atmospheric and sad, but they're also hopeful. With songs that are never overtly planned, but instead felt and written in a stream of consciousness whenever the mood strikes. It was important to capture the pure energy and feeling of songs that can hit you where you feel, but you might not know it right at that moment. Like when you cry, but you don't know why you're crying. Or, when you smile and someone comes up to you and remarks at your grin and you didn't even know you were grinning. Like that.
In the tight-knit seaside community of southern Maine and seacoast New Hampshire, Lina grew up surrounded by musicians, artists and actors. They all, in their way, encouraged her to develop a voice that was singular, while always educating her about Brian Eno and Nirvana or Maurice Ravel and Gustav Mahler. You learn to hold your own when all of your parents' friends are all doing exactly what you want to do when you grow up. Why would you want to be an astronaut or a college professor or a doctor? It was within this erratic upbringing that she developed her obsessive ear for music, a sponge that hadn't yet found her outlet for the songs she wanted to sing.
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