It’s a phase that all aging indie rockers enter: years of breakthroughs that never were, fatigue of the fruitless treadmill of recording and touring, peers peeling off in droves to start careers and families—when is it worth stepping back from the dream for a little stability? The latest atop the mound of albums Fred Thomas has participated in through the years, Changer affirms that he’s not folding his cards quite yet; in fact, after quitting his day job and moving to Montreal, he’s doubling down. He isn’t at all sure it’s the right move, and as he makes it the record contemporaneously explores these mixed feelings. In wading through the doubts of a risky life decision that the album itself represents, Changer is charmingly meta.
To pull off this self-aware chronicle, Thomas eschews abstraction and metaphor—much of the record is stream-of-conscious sing-speak about resisting the tidal pull of conventional middle age. Often this falls into short, nostalgic anecdotes about the life he’s struggling to give up; for example, “Open Letter To Forever,” riding a rolling pop riff, recounts low-paid gigs and submersion in the hipster scene, but it’s not clear whether the memory is fond, frustrating, or both. He seems anxious to catalog these recollections as they bubble to the surface, as if otherwise he might forget his reasons for sticking it out as a singer-songwriter.
Musically, the album embraces thorough production and a wider variety of styles—most notably splashes of minimalist electronica—but retains Thomas’ inexact, slightly disheveled aesthetic. Ambient experiments such as “Echolocation” emotionally track their sentimental contents; in that case, a harp sample, pulsing synths, and a dash of trumpet create a psychedelic mist enveloping his memories of a younger self living in New York. Elsewhere on the catchy “Reactionary,” guitars are reworked for a blissfully smeary, drifting Mac DeMarco effect.
Changer can be summed up by its bookends. “Misremembered” opens with monotonous guitar strum and an extended rant about searching for direction. After wandering through wistful electronic interludes and hashing out insecurities about unfulfilled goals, the album finally hits a propulsive stride on “Mallwalkers,” a wistful collage of unexceptional moments when life felt simple and comfortable. Fading out to an atmospheric stringed finale, Changer feels like it finds similar peace in the present. Good thing, too, as Fred Thomas has proven to be quite an effective and relevant artist in the present.